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Attacker in Sydney Siege Was ‘Deeply Disturbed,’ Australia PM Tony Abbott Says

Attacker in Sydney Siege Was ‘Deeply Disturbed,’ Australia PM Tony Abbott Says

Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Getty Images(SYDNEY) — Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the hostage taker in Monday’s siege in Sydney was a “deeply disturbed individual” who was drawn to extremist views during a life marked by mental instability and crime.Abbott, speaking at a press conference with other authorities Tuesday, said he believes that no one would want to emulate the actions of Man Monis, who took control of a chocolate shop in downtown Sydney, leading to a 16-hour standoff.

Monis and two others were killed during the siege.“The tragedy of these times is that there are people even in a society such as ours who wish to do us harm. We are not immune to the politically motivated violence which has for so long stalked other countries,” Abbott said. “There was nothing consistent about this individual’s life, except that he was consistently weird.”Abbott also expressed his belief that Australia will move beyond the tragedy. “We have seen, in the worst of times, the best of people,” he said.Earlier Tuesday, Abbott and his wife Margie paid respects to the siege victims, laying flowers at a makeshift memorial in Sydney’s business district.The hostages who died during the siege were identified as Tori Johnson, 34, and Katrina Dawson, 38.Johnson was the manager of the café, according to Channel 9 News in Australia. Dawson was an attorney and mother of three, according to the new South Wales Bar Association. Three other hostages and a police officer sustained non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said.Of the 17 total hostages, at least 12 were reportedly able to flee from the store before police stormed the shop.

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UN Spreads Blame for Torture, Indiscriminate Killings in Eastern Ukraine

UN Spreads Blame for Torture, Indiscriminate Killings in Eastern Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(UNITED NATIONS) — A blistering United Nations human rights report on the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine alleges both sides have indiscriminately killed civilians and used torture.The U.N. puts the death toll at over 4,630 but believes the actually number of casualties is much higher. More than 10,230 people have also been wounded in the fighting between government forces and rebel factions backed by Russia.Adding to the misery, the report says, are more than 5.2 million residents in the east caught in the midst of violence with much of the local infrastructure devastated and Ukraine's brutal winter having arrived.The U.N. report contends the most vulnerable are "older persons, children and people in institutional care, many of whom are on the brink of survival."Meanwhile, the human rights group spares no punches assigning blame for the crisis, first accusing the government in Kiev for allowing "arbitrary detentions, torture, and enforced disappearances of people suspected of 'separatism and terrorism.'"The U.N. then blasts separatist groups for "creating a criminal state in parts of the industrial regions of Lugansk and Donetsk they control with the help of 'foreign fighters,'" which is taken to mean Russian forces.Neither side responded to the U.N. report.

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Australian PM Tony Abbott Pays Tribute to ‘Innocent’ Victims of Hostage Crisis

Australian PM Tony Abbott Pays Tribute to ‘Innocent’ Victims of Hostage Crisis

Photo by Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Getty Images(SYDNEY) -- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon about the hostage situation in Sydney that left the gunman and two others dead, noting that the eyes of the world, "have been focused on the city of Sydney.""Tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people right around the world have been focused on the city of Sydney, which has been touched by terrorism for the first time in more than 35 years," Abbott said Tuesday. On Monday night and into Tuesday morning, Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh," held 17 hostages at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe.

Twelve of those hostages escaped before police began an assault on the cafe.In a storm of gunfire as police stormed the cafe early Tuesday morning, Monis and two hostages were killed. The New South Wales Bar Assocation identified Katrina Dawson, 38, as one of the fatalities, and Australia's 9News identified Tori Johnson, 34, a manager of the cafe, as the second. Six people at the scene were treated for injuries."It's about as innocent a thing as anyone can do," Abbott said, "to go and grab a cup of coffee before the working day has fully started." The victims, he said, were, "decent, innocent people who got caught up in the sick fantasy of a deeply disturbed individual."Monis was believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News.He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the station."The tragedy of these times," Abbott noted, "is that there are people, even in a society such as ours, who wish to do us harm."Abbott also spoke of the memorial that was created in front of the cafe, filled with mounds of flowers in honor of the victims. "The spontaneous shrine which has developed now in Martin Place is so much an expression of that innate goodness and decency which is a mark of the Australian character," Abbott said.

The prime minister and his wife visited the shrine earlier on Tuesday, laying down bouquets of flowers and signing the condolence books, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.On the shooter, Abbott did not provide any further information, noting simply that "there was nothing consistent about this individual's life except that he was consistently weird." In reference to reports that Monis had demanded authorities bring him an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria flag, Abbott termed it, "interesting that the [ISIS] death cult seems to attract people like that."

 

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What We Know About the Sydney Siege Victims

What We Know About the Sydney Siege Victims

Photo by Andrew Meares/Fairfax Media via Getty Images(SYDNEY) -- Police have confirmed that in addition to the self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who took control of a chocolate shop in downtown Sydney, two others were killed during the siege.Of the 17 total hostages, at least 12 were reportedly able to flee from the store before police stormed the shop.One of the slain hostages was Tori Johnson, 34, the manager of the cafe, according to Channel 9 News in Australia. Johnson tried to knock the gun out of the hostage taker Man Monis' hand, Channel 9 reported."Tori had been with us at Lindt for just over two years and he was a great ambassador for our company and the store that he managed, which he cared about passionately. He was a dedicated professional who always built a great rapport with his customers and was much loved by the Lindt team," Lindt Chocolate Cafe Australia said in a statement. "By nature he was a perfectionist and he had a genuine passion for the hospitality industry and people. He was a really important part of our management team in Australia and his loss is absolutely tragic. Our thoughts are with his family and we will do all that we can to provide ongoing support and help for them during this very difficult time."The other hostage who was killed was identified as attorney and mother of three Katrina Dawson, 38, according to the New South Wales Bar Association."Katrina, together with two other members of the NSW Bar, were held as hostages during the incident at the Lindt Café," Jane Needham, president of the bar association, said in a statement. "Katrina was one of our best and brightest barristers who will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends at the NSW Bar. She was a devoted mother of three children, and a valued member of her floor and of our bar community. Our thoughts are with her family at this time, including her brother, Sandy Dawson of Banco Chambers."

Monis was believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News.

He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the network. During the seige, two people inside the cafe were seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it apparently at Monis' direction. The banner contained a Koranic quote that has been used by extremists in the past.  

The spokeswoman for Royal North Shore Hospital confirmed to ABC News earlier Monday that there were three people there being treated for injuries sustained during the siege. One was a 39-year-old policeman who is in stable condition after being grazed on the cheek by a gunshot, the spokeswoman said.Police identified the rest of the injured as: a 75-year-old woman with a gunshot wound to the shoulder; a 52-year-old woman with a gunshot wound to the foot; a 43-year-old woman who was shot in the leg; and two pregnant women, one 30 and one 35, both of who were assessed for health and welfare purposes. All were in stable condition, according to police, who declined to give names or hospital information.Four videos that were reportedly filmed inside the café were released online -- and have since been removed. In the videos, several people who appear to be hostages identify themselves and speak on behalf of their captor, stating his demands.A U.S. State Department official told ABC News that Australian authorities have not confirmed the identities of the hostages but, "at this stage, we are not aware of U.S. citizens having been involved."Some of the hostages have been identified through the Australian press, and people claiming to be relatives of the hostages have written about their loved ones on social media, but none of the hostages have spoken out publicly at this point.Two of the first hostages to emerge from the chocolate shop were wearing the company's aprons and were believed to be employees at the store.The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper, identified one of the first hostages seen running from the store as Elly Chen, a waitress at the café.

 

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Six Arrested on Terror, Fraud Charges in UK

Six Arrested on Terror, Fraud Charges in UK

Raylipscombe/iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Six people who had been arrested about two weeks ago in the United Kingdom Monday will face terror and fraud charges.According to The Guardian, of the six men who were arrested on Nov. 30, December 1, and Dec. 4, five of the men are from London.

The six men were scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court Monday.The Guardian identified the men as Michael Coe, 33, Simon Keeler, 43, Anthony Small, 33, Zagum Perviaz, 35, and Abdulraouf Eshati, 28. The charges they face include preparation and assisting to others in preparation of acts of terrorism, support of a proscribed organization, conspiracy to possess false identity documents and possession of articles in connection to the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.

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Dept. of Defense Confirms Two US Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Friday

Dept. of Defense Confirms Two US Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Friday

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Friday, the Department of Defense announced.Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Sheldon Morris, 37, and Spec. Wyatt Joseph Martin, 22, both assigned to Fort Hood, were killed when their vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Parwan Province. No other details about the attack were provided.Both Morris and Martin had been deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in June.Morris entered active duty service in February 1996, and had served in Korea and in Operation Iraqi Freedom on three separate deployments.

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Russia’s Ruble Continues Its Collapse; Prices Begin to Increase

Russia’s Ruble Continues Its Collapse; Prices Begin to Increase

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia's currency on Monday suffered one of its worst -- if not the worst -- day since Vladimir Putin became president nearly 15 years ago.The ruble has lost nearly half of its value from a year ago, and with its decline has come rapid inflation.Over dinner, waiters changed wine prices in the middle of the meal, and some shops have set prices pegged to a stable currency like the dollar or Euro. The government has reminded busineses that that's illegal, but the alternative -- changing pricetags every minute -- is practically impossible.

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Gorbachev Thinks US Needs Perestroika-Like Reforms

Gorbachev Thinks US Needs Perestroika-Like Reforms Ralf Juergens/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is lashing out again, this time saying the United States needs to change its ways. Gorbachev said he thinks the U.S. needs perestroika-style reforms, referring to the histori...

Gunman and Two Others Dead in Sydney Hostage Crisis

Gunman and Two Others Dead in Sydney Hostage Crisis

WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images(SYDNEY) -- A gunman who burst into a Sydney chocolate shop and took hostages has been killed, along with two of the hostages, Australian police said.The suspect was identified by police as Man Haron Monis. He was declared dead at the scene, New South Wales Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said. The New South Wales Bar Association identified Katrina Dawson, 38 as one of the other victims. Tori Johnson, 34, was identified as the other victim by Australia's 9News. Six people at the scene were treated for injuries.Burn said that “from what I have heard, there were shots fired and an emergency plan was followed” but she could not confirm whether the gunman fired shots at the hostages. She said that Monis was on bail for another crime and police believe he was mentally unstable.Police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the early hours of Tuesday morning, ending the siege.New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that the decision to enter the premises came after they heard gunshots coming from inside. Scipione also confirmed that, in total, Monis had been holding 17 people hostage, though up to 12 of those individuals had been able to get out of the store before police began their assault.Scipione and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said that Monis was a "lone gunman" and no explosives had been found in the area surrounding the Lindt Chocolat Cafe."We have lost some of our own in an attack we never thought we would see here in our own city," Baird said at a news conference Tuesday morning, local time.

Monis was believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News.

He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the station.Explosions of what were believed to be flash bang grenades were heard when police stormed the shop and while there were many loud noises, it is not clear if or how many shots were fired by either police or Monis during the face off.At 10:19 a.m. ET, a group of at least seven heavily armed police officers went into the Lindt cafe under the cover of loud bangs of what local news Channel 9 is calling stun grenades. Shortly after the police stormed the café, at least two hostages emerged, looking visibly shaken.A few minutes later, a few paramedics were seen entering the café behind police officers with medical packs -- followed by at least two stretchers. The explosive police action came shortly after a new wave of hostages emerged from the shop.Earlier in the day, seven new people fled from the popular Sydney cafe after they had been taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down, authorities said.Two people inside the cafe were seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it that has been used by extremists in the past -- raising fears that a terror attack was unfolding in Australia's largest city.

Video also emerged early in the standoff showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air.The first three people who fled sprinted out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe about six hours into the standoff, while two women -- wearing aprons -- frantically ran from a side exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police officers waiting outside.At the same time, media personalities said they received calls from hostages during the standoff.New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, speaking at a news conference as the situation stretched into the night, said authorities remain committed on ensuring that the hostages are safely released."We have the very best negotiators in the world on the job," Scipione said.New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said people should proceed as usual on Tuesday morning, but should work from home if their offices are located within an exclusion zone near the standoff.Police negotiators were in contact with the armed hostage-taker during the stand off, but the motive remains unclear, New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said.Burn said authorities are monitoring all forms of communication, including social media, for any information that might help resolve the standoff.Earlier in the day, Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding the hostages in the cafe, who have been kept there against their will since 9:30 a.m. local time on Monday.In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in Australia condemned the attack on Facebook, saying they "condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam.""We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day."We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said.The State Department said the nearby U.S. consulate was evacuated.People inside buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows."There's a real sense of alertness, awareness and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering."Abbott, the prime minister, said the country's National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation."This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said. 

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott tweeted on Monday that flags on all Australian buildings would be lowered to half-mast.

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(SYDNEY) --  A gunman who burst into a Sydney chocolate shop and took hostages has been killed, along with two of the hostages, Australian police said.The suspect was identified by police as Man Haron Monis. He was declared dead at the scene, New South Wales Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said. The identities of the two others killed were not revealed. Six people at the scene were treated for injuries.Burn said that “from what I have heard, there were shots fired and an emergency plan was followed” but she could not confirm whether the gunman fired shots at the hostages. She said that Monis was on bail for another crime and police believe he was mentally unstable.Police stormed the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the early hours of Tuesday morning, ending the siege.New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that the decision to enter the premises came after they heard gunshots coming from inside. Scipione also confirmed that, in total, Monis had been holding 17 people hostage, though up to 12 of those individuals had been able to get out of the store before police began their assault.Scipione and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said that Monis was a "lone gunman" and no explosives had been found in the area surrounding the Lindt Chocolat Cafe."We have lost some of our own in an attack we never thought we would see here in our own city," Baird said at a news conference Tuesday morning, local time.Explosions of what were believed to be flash bang grenades were heard when police stormed the shop and while there were many loud noises, it is not clear if or how many shots were fired by either police or Monis during the face off.At 10:19 a.m. ET, a group of at least seven heavily armed police officers went into the Lindt cafe under the cover of loud bangs of what local news Channel 9 is calling stun grenades. Shortly after the police stormed the café, at least two hostages emerged, looking visibly shaken.A few minutes later, a few paramedics were seen entering the café behind police officers with medical packs -- followed by at least two stretchers. The explosive police action came shortly after a new wave of hostages emerged from the shop.PHOTO: A injured hostage is wheeled to an ambulance after shots were fired during a cafe siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 16, 2014.Rob Griffith/AP PhotoPHOTO: A injured hostage is wheeled to an ambulance after shots were fired during a cafe siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 16, 2014.PHOTO: Hostages run towards armed tactical response police as they run to freedom from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 16, 2014.Rob Griffith/AP PhotoPHOTO: Hostages run towards armed tactical response police as they run to freedom from a cafe under siege at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 16, 2014.Monis was believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News.He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the station.Sydney Hostage Taker Identified as Man Haron MonisPHOTOS: Hostage Crisis in SydneyLIVE UPDATES: Sydney Hostage SituationEarlier in the day, seven new people fled from the popular Sydney cafe after they had been taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down, authorities said.Two people inside the cafe were seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it that has been used by extremists in the past -- raising fears that a terror attack was unfolding in Australia's largest city.PHOTO: Armed police enter a cafe where hostages are being held at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.Channel 9 AustraliaPHOTO: Armed police enter a cafe where hostages are being held at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.Video also emerged early in the standoff showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air.The first three people who fled sprinted out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe about six hours into the standoff, while two women -- wearing aprons -- frantically ran from a side exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police officers waiting outside.At the same time, media personalities said they received calls from hostages during the standoff.It is unclear exactly how many people remain inside the cafe.PHOTO: Armed tactical response police personnel stand watch into the evening near a cafe under siege by a gunman at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.Rob Griffith/AP PhotoPHOTO: Armed tactical response police personnel stand watch into the evening near a cafe under siege by a gunman at Martin Place in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, speaking at a news conference as the situation stretched into the night, said authorities remain committed on ensuring that the hostages are safely released."We have the very best negotiators in the world on the job," Scipione said.New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said people should proceed as usual on Tuesday morning, but should work from home if their offices are located within an exclusion zone near the standoff.Police negotiators were in contact with the armed hostage-taker during the stand off, but the motive remains unclear, New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said.Burn said authorities are monitoring all forms of communication, including social media, for any information that might help resolve the standoff.Earlier in the day, Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding the hostages in the cafe, who have been kept there against their will since 9:30 a.m. local time on Monday.In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in Australia condemned the attack on Facebook, saying they "condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam."PHOTO: Two hostages, left, run for cover behind a policeman, right, during a hostage siege in the central business district of Sydney on Dec. 15, 2014.William West/AFP/Getty ImagesPHOTO: Two hostages, left, run for cover behind a policeman, right, during a hostage siege in the central business district of Sydney on Dec. 15, 2014.PHOTO: This image taken from video show people holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it, inside a cafe in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.Channel 7 video/AP PhotoPHOTO: This image taken from video show people holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it, inside a cafe in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014."We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day."We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said.The State Department said the nearby U.S. consulate was evacuated.People inside buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows."There's a real sense of alertness, awareness and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering."PHOTO: Police officers chat on the scene of the siege at Lindt Cafe in Martin Place on Dec. 15, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesPHOTO: Police officers chat on the scene of the siege at Lindt Cafe in Martin Place on Dec. 15, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.Abbott, the prime minister, said the country's National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation."This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.

Rome Will Bid to Host 2024 Summer Olympics, Italian PM Says

Rome Will Bid to Host 2024 Summer Olympics, Italian PM Says

iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- Rome will bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi made the announcement Monday morning, saying it would bring a clean boost to Italy's struggling economy.Renzi said Rome's plans to host the games would not involve massive building projects but instead air-tight technological and spending oversight.Italy has been hit with a spate of public works corruption scandals and the arrest of alleged mafia members and Rome city politicians, accused of siphoning off funds from housing for migrants and other public works.With the Olympic bid, Renzi wants to help hoist Italy out of its worst post-war recession. But Italians are wary of leaders trying to solve deep-rooted economic problems with big money projects. They know all too well that by going for the gold, Italy risks trailing behind.

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Sydney Hostage Crisis Over After Police Storm Cafe with Stun Grenades

Sydney Hostage Crisis Over After Police Storm Cafe with Stun Grenades

Daniel Munoz/Getty Images

(SYDNEY) — Police have declared the siege over in Sydney after armed officers stormed the chocolate shop at the center of a hostage crisis and hostages were seen fleeing amid the sound of explosions. At 10:19 a.m. ET, a group of at least seven heavily armed police officers went into the Lindt cafe under the cover of loud bangs of what local news Channel 9 is calling stun grenades. Shortly after the police stormed the café, at least two hostages emerged, looking visibly shaken. A few minutes later, a few paramedics were seen entering the café behind police officers with medical packs -- followed by at least two stretchers. The explosive police action came shortly after a new wave of hostages emerged from the shop. The suspect was identified as Man Monis, according to Australian news reports. Monis is believed to be a self-proclaimed Islamic "sheikh" who is known to Australian police because he was allegedly involved in dozens of counts of sexual assault, according to Australia's 9News. He was born in Iran as Manteghi Bourjerdi and migrated to Australia in 1996, according to the station. Earlier in the day, seven new people fled from the popular Sydney cafe after they had been taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down, authorities said. Two people inside the cafe were seen holding up a flag with Arabic writing on it that has been used by extremists in the past -- raising fears that a terror attack was unfolding in Australia's largest city. Video also emerged early in the standoff showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air. The first three people who fled sprinted out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe about six hours into the standoff, while two women -- wearing aprons -- frantically ran from a side exit and into the arms of heavily-armed SWAT team police officers waiting outside. At the same time, media personalities said they received calls from hostages during the standoff. New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, speaking at a news conference as the situation stretched into the night, said authorities remain committed on ensuring that the hostages are safely released. "We have the very best negotiators in the world on the job," Scipione said. Earlier in the day, Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding the hostages in the cafe, who have been kept there against their will since 9:30 a.m. local time on Monday. In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them." Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in Australia condemned the attack on Facebook, saying they "condemn this criminal act unequivocally and reiterate that such actions are denounced in part and in whole in Islam." "We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day. "We don't know that this is politically motivated although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm." Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said. The State Department said the nearby U.S. consulate was evacuated. People inside buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows. "There's a real sense of alertness, awareness and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering." Abbott, the prime minister, said the country's National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation. "This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.

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Sydney Hostage Crisis: Hostages Share Gunman’s Demands in Chilling Phone Calls

Sydney Hostage Crisis: Hostages Share Gunman’s Demands in Chilling Phone Calls

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images(SYDNEY) — Media personalities in Australia say they received calls Monday from hostages in the Sydney cafe standoff.Ray Hadley was hosting his radio show on Australia’s 2GB station when he says a hostage called in on his show’s open line. Hadley did not put the hostage on-air live -- worried about the risks -- but says he spoke to the hostage in four conversations before police negotiators took over."I could hear the hostage-taker in the background issuing instructions to him on what to request me to say on air,” Hadley told ABC News.With the armed gunman nearby, the hostage couldn’t say much over the phone, especially nothing negative, Hadley recalled.After speaking with the male hostage, Hadley consulted with police. A negotiator eventually arrived to his studio, picking up the conversation.Other hostages, meanwhile, spoke off-air to the negotiator, Hadley said.Hadley says the situation became “heart-wrenching” when a mother called into his show, saying her 18-year-old son was being held hostage inside the café.“She was in a situation where she was feeling terribly bad for the hostages, and then she suddenly realized her own boy was inside there, being held hostage,” Hadley said.Mark Burrows, a reporter with 9 News Australia, said he also spoke with two hostages who called his newsroom directly.“The first one, as I spoke to her, the gunman was actually reeling his demands through her, a long list of demands,” Burrows said. “I think No. 1 was that he wanted to speak to someone with authority, but mainly the prime minister, and there were quite a few other of those demands."“I asked her whether she was OK, she seemed reasonably relaxed.”About an hour later, another hostage called, Burrows said, with the second hostage in a more “agitated” state.“Again she had the gunman hovering over her, making these demands through her,” Burrows said. "That lady was far more anxious, far more agitated, because she got the feeling nothing was being done, but that’s not the case."

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Sydney Hostage Situation: 5 People Flee Lindt Chocolate Shop

Sydney Hostage Situation: 5 People Flee Lindt Chocolate Shop

WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images(SYDNEY) -- Five people have fled from a Sydney cafe after they were taken hostage -- with others still held inside as neighboring blocks remain locked down as police tried to make contact with the armed perpetrator, authorities said. 

The hostages were being held in the Lindt Chocolat Café, a chocolate shop and cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, the city's financial district where the Reserve Bank of Australia and several commercial banks have their main offices. The area is also close to the New South Wales state parliament.

Two women wearing Lindt Cafe aprons were seen running out of the building's side door.

Earlier, New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn confirmed that three other people had gotten away.

"The first thing we will do is make sure they are OK and then we will work with these people to find out some more information,” Burn said. “Our No. 1 aim is to resolve this incident peacefully."

Police negotiators are in contact with the armed hostage-taker, but the motive remains unclear, Burn said.

Earlier in the day, video emerged showing people being held inside the shop with their hands held in the air. Two women were also seen inside the cafe holding up what appeared to be a black flag with white Arabic writing on it.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said there is at least one armed person holding an undisclosed number of hostages in the cafe. Police have not yet had contact with the hostage-taker, he said, adding that the situation began Monday at 9:45 a.m. local time.

In a statement on Facebook, Lindt said, "We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and kind support over the current situation at the Lindt Chocolate Café at Martin Place. We are deeply concerned over this serious incident and our thoughts and prayers are with the staff and customers involved and all their friends and families. The matter is being dealt with by the authorities and we are waiting for any updates from them."

They are also looking at the flag the hostages have been pictured holding. Scipione also said police have not yet confirmed it is a terrorism event, but they are acting in a manner consistent with a terror attack.

"We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference earlier in the day. "We don't know that this is politically motivated, although there is some indications that it could be. We have to appreciate that even in a society such as ours, there are people who would wish to do us harm."

Several nearby offices were evacuated as a precaution, police said. People in buildings in the neighboring streets were directed to remain indoors and stay away from open windows.

"There's a real sense of alertness, awareness, and a bit of shock to be honest," said Lisa Martin, who works in an office nearby the cafe and was in lockdown. "To know that there are so many people just having coffee and a chocolate are now in a hostage situation is really sobering."

Earlier, video that aired on Channel 9 Australia showed police with weapons drawn, their attention focused on the cafe. Police said emergency services had responded and streets around the area had been closed.

"New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney," Abbott said.

He said the National Security Committee of Cabinet has convened for briefings on the situation.

"This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner," he said.

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Sweden: Russian Military Jet Nearly Collides with Passenger Plane

Sweden: Russian Military Jet Nearly Collides with Passenger Plane

iStock/Thinkstock(STOCKHOLM) -- Alarms have been raised after a close call in the air between a Russian military jet and a passenger plane.According to Swedish officials, the Russian aircraft switched off its transponder on Friday, making it almost invisible to commercial radar. A Scandinavian Airlines flight in the area nearly collided with the jet as a result.Russia has denied everything, but Sweden and NATO aren't buying it. The Swedes say Russia even conducted a practice bombing run over Stockholm last year.The incident is the latest sign of growing tension between Russia and the West.

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American Accused of Illegally Entering North Korea Speaks to Media

American Accused of Illegally Entering North Korea Speaks to Media

iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korea rolled out Arturo Pierre Martinez for the media on Sunday, accusing the American citizen of illegally entering the country.The details surrounding Martinez's entrance into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are not clear, but he apparently is not in custody.In a news conference in Pyongyang Sunday, Martinez said he crossed a river from China."I would like to offer a sincere apology to the leadership of the DPRK for knowingly having violated its nation's laws and boundaries by illegally entering as I did in such a foolish way," the 29-year-old from El Paso, Texas said."And I am extremely grateful for having been pardoned from the punishments given to violators of these laws, and for the most generous reception I have received," Martinez added.Martinez opened his remarks reading a statement seemingly written by North Korean officials."I would like to reveal some facts about America's imperialistic influence and dominance as well as much of its corrupt and threatening practices, through which it has proven itself to have little to no regard for human rights or serving the greater good," he said.He also said he doesn't plan on returning to the United States anytime soon."After I am done with my stay in the DPRK, I plan on seeking political asylum in the country of Venezuela," Martinez noted.Following the news conference, the State Department said it is aware of reports that an American citizen crossed into North Korea and "stand[s] ready to provide all possible consular assistance."The State Department also reiterated its warning that Americans should not travel to North Korea.

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Miss South Africa Crowned Miss World 2014

Miss South Africa Crowned Miss World 2014

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Miss South Africa Rolene Strauss was crowned Miss World 2014 in London on Sunday.The 22-year-old medical student was the favorite to take the title. Miss Hungary Edina Kulcsár followed in second place and Miss United States Elizabeth Safrit came in third.From Albania to Zimbabwe, 121 contestants competed for the title. But one country was not represented: Honduras.The bodies of Miss Honduras, María José Alvarado, and her sister were found buried by a river in the northern part of the Central American country last month on the day before she had planned to leave for London to prepare for the pageant. Police are accusing Alvarado's sister's boyfriend with their murders.

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Turkish Police Arrest Nearly Two Dozen During Crackdown on Media

Turkish Police Arrest Nearly Two Dozen During Crackdown on Media

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images(ISTANBUL) -- Nearly two dozen people were arrested in a nationwide crackdown on Turkish media outlets on Sunday, according to witnesses.The arrests targeted critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has attempted to quiet his detractors following a corruption scandal last year."Those detained are accused of forming an illegal organisation and trying to seize control of the state," reports the BBC. They include journalists, producers, scriptwriters and a police chief, the BBC says.The raid was predicted earlier this week by an unknown online tipster who claims to be a part of Erdogan's inner circle.

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Netanyahu Vows to Fight Palestinian UN Proposal

Netanyahu Vows to Fight Palestinian UN Proposal

Uriel Sinai/Getty images(JERUSALEM) -- Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday in Rome to try to defuse rising tensions.Ahead of his meeting with Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed once again to fight a Palestinian United Nations proposal that sets a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Kerry wants to avoid a showdown in the U.N. where a U.S. veto of the West Bank withdrawal plan may alienate Arab allies in the fight against ISIS.Israeli sources believe Kerry will make a last ditch effort to convince the Palestinians in Rome to shelf their U.N. plan and agree to a European draft that calls for a resumption of peace talks.

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Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies

Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies

File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(NEW YORK) -- The Geminids meteor shower was on full display early Sunday morning as some lucky stargazers caught the meteors streaking through the sky.The shower happens every December when Earth glides into a stream of space debris left over from an extinct comet called 3200 Phaethon.The meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini. Meteors shoot out of the constellation, producing many fireballs.The Geminids are older than the Civil War and were first documented in the early 19th century.

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New Photos of Prince George Released by Kensington Palace

New Photos of Prince George Released by Kensington Palace

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge/PA Wire via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Kensington Palace has released three new photos of Prince George. Taken in the Kensington Palace courtyard in November, the pictures show the third in line to the crown increasingly resembling his father.In each of the three photos, Prince George, dressed in a sweater adorned with the Queens Guards in traditional bearskin hats, has different expressions.George will be joined by a sibling in April next year.Prince William joked with President Obama they want the sex of their unborn baby to be a surprise, and said when George was born, he hadn't realized initially whether the baby was a boy or girl."We want a surprise. When George was born, I forgot to work out whether it was a boy or a girl. The excitement of the event and everything else was just chaos. You are suddenly ... well actually it's a boy," the Duke of Cambridge told the president.Will and Kate are just coming off a tour of the United States. They decided to leave Prince George in London while they made the 48-hour trip to New York and Washington, D.C., for the first time.William made a quick trip to Washington, D.C., that included a stop at the White House.In New York, he hit the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The couple paid their respects at the 9/11 Memorial.The real life royalty also rubbed shoulders with American royalty -- LeBron "King" James, "Queen Bey" Beyonce and Jay Z at a basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets.The couple spent their final night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a fundraiser celebrating the 600th anniversary of St. Andrews University, their alma mater where they met and fell in love."One of the reasons the photographs have been released by Their Royal Highnesses is in grateful acknowledgment of the fact that their request for Prince George to grow up without intrusion from photography has been, and continues to be, honoured," Royal sources told ABC News.The Cambridges want George to be able to experience a childhood that is as normal as possible, but they also acknowledge the great public interest in their young son.

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