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Press digest

The following are the top stories in the Maltese and overseas press:

The Times says more job losses in the EU are being forecast. It also says two students have been taken to court over sexual abuse of another student.

The Malta Independent says that the vote to appoint the new European Commission has been postponed to February 9, a story also featured in In-Nazzjon. The Malta Independent also reports that soldiers swam in rat-infested water during a training exercise in Ghadwick Lakes, a court was told yesterday.

MaltaToday says that ARMS, the new company processing the water and electricity tariffs, suffered a technical problem and as a result, the collection of arrears has been jeopardised. It also says that the expansion of Church schools has set off alarm bells in the private sector.

In-Nazzjon says the full programme of the Pope's visit will be announced on February 10. A Vatican delegation was in Malta to finalise arrangements yesterday.

l-orizzont says the European Court has decided against development in a Natura 2000 site, and says Bahrija has the same status.

The international press:

The International Herald Tribune reports that the first 26 of Haiti's evacuated orphans arrived in the United States to begin new lives. Another 1,500 were expected to head to the Netherlands and France. Unicef estimates that the number of orphans after the disaster might reach over one million.

Meanwhile, according to London's Daily Telegraph, medics treating survivors have warned the next big challenge was saving as many as three million hungry, injured and homeless people from deadly infections and diseases.

The Times-Virginian reports that up to eight people are dead and at least one other injured after a shooting rampage in central Virginia. The suspect, identified as a lone male gunman, was still at large, although law enforcement officers believe they have him boxed in an area of woodlands. The multiple homicide is believed to be one of the worst in several generations in Appomattox County.

Toronto Star reports that 24-year-old Jordanian-born Zakaria Amara, ringleader of a plot to set off truck bombs to scare Canada into removing its troops from Afghanistan, became the first Canadian to receive a life term for terrorism. Last October, he, admitted being a leader of the so-called Toronto 18 plot to set off bombs outside Toronto's Stock Exchange, a building housing Canada's spy agency and a military base.

De Telegraaf says Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders will appear before an Amsterdam court today on charges of religious insult and anti-Islam incitement. Wilders has called Islam a "backward" culture and the Koran a "fascist book that incites people to violence". He claims his trial is "political" and says any statements he made fell under the right to freedom of expression.

In the UK, The Times says Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned the Chancellor to specify sharp spending cuts in his March Budget or face a backlash from the financial markets. He warned that families must steel themselves for years of hardship, even though the recession is all but over.

Asia Times says foreign journalists in China said that their Google email accounts had been hacked in attacks similar to the ones against human rights activists. The internet search giant has said it is considering pulling out of the country because of the hacking incidents.

Asia Observer reports that Asia-Pacific business leaders have been warned that the world's most diverse marine region was under serious threat and needed urgent protection. The Coral Triangle - a 2.1 million-square-mile stretch of ocean straddling six countries - contains 75 per cent of the world's coral species, a third of the Earth's coral reefs, and more than 3,000 species of fish. It provides the livelihoods for more than 120 million people.

The Palm Beach Post says the mother of former tennis glamour girl Anna Kournikova has been arrested after Anna's five-year-old half-brother jumped out of a second-storey window in Palm Beach, Florida. He landed on rocks and then walked to the footpath where neighbours found him crying, screaming and bleeding. Alla Kournikova, 46, has been charged with child neglect.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports 61-year-old Roger Stephens who slapped a stranger's two-year-old child in a supermarket was found guilty of child cruelty and sentenced to six months in jail and six months' home confinement. Police said Stephens slapped the child several times after warning the toddler's mother to keep her quiet.

Le Parisien says obese people who are unable to squeeze into a single plane seat will have to pay nearly double to fly with Air France-KLM in future. Extra-large flyers will have to pay 75 per cent of the cost of a second seat (the full price excluding tax and surcharges) on top of the full price for the first. The airline said the decision was made for "safety" reasons. They will, however, get their money back on flights that are not fully booked.

Metro says a judge at a British court has sent an unemployed single mother who had sex almost 200 times with a 12-year-old boy for psychiatric reports. She faces a lengthy jail sentence when Judge Tony Briggs, sitting at the Teesside Crown Court, passes sentence next month. She admitted the charges and was remanded in custody. She defiled her victim after getting him drunk.

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