Venezuela's Chavez travels to Cuba for cancer surgery


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez traveled to Havana, where he was met at the airport by his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, state television reported.

Chavez arrived in the Cuban capital early Monday, but state television reports did not provide the exact arrival time.

Castro and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met Chavez as he came down the steps from his plane.

The 58-year-old Chavez will undergo surgery in Havana to remove malignant cancer cells.




Jenni Rivera's plane abruptly plunged to earth


The private plane carrying popular Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera and six companions experienced an "abrupt descent" before crashing in northern Mexico, killing everyone aboard, officials said.

The aircraft "arrived at 28,700 feet and from there an abrupt descent to 9,000 occurs, which is where it crashes," the head of the DGAC civil aviation agency, Alejandro Argudin, told Radio Formula.

He said that at present authorities do not know the cause of the accident, which occurred very early Sunday morning after the Learjet 25 took off from the northern city of Monterrey en route for Toluca, near the Mexican capital.

There was no emergency radio call before the U.S.-registered aircraft made in 1969 dropped off the radar 14 minutes after taking off, Argudin said.

On Sunday, the wreckage of the completely destroyed plane were found on a ranch in a remote mountainous part of Nuevo Leon state, the capital of which is Monterrey.




Mexican gov't to cut administrative spending


President Enrique Peña Nieto issued a decree establishing measures to improve the use of Mexico's public resources by reducing spending and modernizing government.

The decree, published Monday in the official gazette, includes a cut in current spending as well as an evaluation of its organic structure and its programs to eliminate redundancy and achieve the "efficient, transparent and efficacious use of public resources."

Among the measures is a 5 percent reduction in salaries for mid-and higher-level positions and the elimination of positions deemed superfluous.

It prohibits the acquisition of properties without prior cost-benefit justification and establishes a process to sell off "unproductive or obsolete, idle or unnecessary assets."




Member of Bin Laden-raid unit killed in Afghanistan


The U.S. Defense Department identified a soldier who died on the weekend in a rescue operation in Afghanistan as a member of Navy SEAL Team Six, the special forces unit that killed Osama bin Laden last year.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, died of wounds received Saturday during an operation to free U.S. Dr. Dilip Joseph of Morning Star Development.

Joseph and two co-workers had been kidnapped on Dec. 5 while on their way back to Kabul after a visit to a rural clinic.

The Pentagon did not say whether Checque took part in the Bin Laden mission.

The rescue operation was launched after NATO commanders received information that Dr. Joseph was in "imminent" danger in the hands of his captors.




Cold wave blamed for 2 deaths in Guatemala


A sharp drop in temperatures has caused two deaths in the western Guatemalan province of Quetzaltenango, first responders said.

Oscar de Jesus Elias was found dead of hypothermia on a street outside the town of Olintepeque, fire rescue said.

The other fatality, identified only as a homeless woman, was discovered in Quetzaltenango city.

Parts of western Guatemala experienced temperatures as low as minus 7 C (19 F), the National Institute of Meteorology said, while many residents woke up Monday to find frost on their homes and vehicles.




RSF calls on Mexico to clear up inauguration day incidents


The Mexican government should completely clear up the incidents that occurred on Dec. 1, when President Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated, especially allegations of torture, Reporters Without Borders said, adding that the release of two photographers jailed during the protests was a welcome step.

"Press photographers Mircea Topoleanu and Brandon Daniel Bazan were finally released yesterday after being held since their arrests while covering major clashes between police and demonstrators in Mexico City during President Enrique Peña Nieto's swearing-in on 1 December," the Paris-based press rights group, known as RSF, said.

Topoleanu, a 32-year-old Romanian who works for Voices Mexico magazine, was arrested as he watched a protester being detained.

Bazan, a 19-year-old photographer employed by Cafe MX magazine, was arrested along with a group of young people he had photographed as they marched peacefully in the capital.




EU receives Nobel Peace Prize


The European Union accepted the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize with a commitment to honor the values for which it was awarded, and, in these times of crisis, to defend the euro as a symbol of unity.

"Today one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone's hands. It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it," European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said.

Barroso, who closed the expressions of gratitude begun by EU President Herman Van Rompuy, said that "despite its imperfections, the European Union can be, and indeed is, a powerful inspiration for many around the world."

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were the focus of the event's most symbolic moment when they stood to a resounding ovation after the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, pointed to the reconciliation of France and Germany as the seed of the current European Union.




British marine who inspired James Bond character dies


Bill Day, one of the last survivors of a British World War II military assault unit that inspired Ian Fleming to create the character of James Bond, has died, the Daily Telegraph reported. He was 95.

Day belonged to 30 Assault Unit, or 30AU, which played an important role in the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.

"Ian Fleming had worked for the Director of Naval Intelligence, and in the months after the war wrote a history of 30AU which is now in The National Archives. The manuscript was typed up by Margaret Priestley, whom Fleming took as his model for Miss Petty Pettaval (better known as Miss Moneypenny); some of the exploits of Day and his companions were to be the basis for some of Bond's adventures," the newspaper said.

William Bernard Day, who enlisted in the Royal Marines at the age of 17, never even came close to being as famous as Agent 007.




2 Die in attack on bus in Brazil


Two people burned to death over the weekend when a bus was torched in Sao Paulo, which has been plagued by a wave of violence blamed on a gang that operates inside the prisons, Brazilian police said.

About 20 people attacked the bus early Sunday at a terminal in the northern section of the city, eyewitnesses said.

The only two passengers aboard the bus were trapped and burned to death, police said.

Seven suspects were arrested in connection with the attack on the bus, police spokesman Cosmo Stikovics Filho said.




Women's affairs official gunned down in Afghanistan


The head of the Women's Affairs Department in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman was shot to death on her way to work, a government spokesman told Efe.

Najia Seddiqi died in the area of Deh Mazoz, which is adjacent to the city of Mehtarlam - capital of Laghman - when several as yet unidentified armed men attacked her, provincial spokesman Sarhadi Zowak said.

Efe was unable to contact a spokesman for the Taliban to confirm whether or not it was gunmen from that group who killed Seddiqi.