Paris, Dec 28 (AP/UNB) — A 12-year-old boy in the French Alps was found alive and uninjured after being buried under an avalanche for 40 minutes, an event his rescuers are calling a true "miracle."
French police in the town of Bourg Saint-Maurice said the boy was skiing off piste at the La Plagne ski resort in a group of seven skiers Wednesday when he was swept away.
The boy started going down ahead of the others and was the only one caught when a large section of snow detached and roared down the mountain, police said. He was dragged at least 100 meters (110 yards) by the force of the avalanche.
Rescue workers flew in a helicopter to the avalanche scene, which was at 2,400 meters (7,875 feet) altitude. A sniffer dog found the boy, whose winter jacket was not equipped with an avalanche detector.
Rescue workers described the operation as "miraculous" because they said chances of survival are minuscule after 15 minutes under the snow. Police said among the reasons the boy survived is that his airways were not blocked by snow.
"We can call it a miracle. A day after Christmas, there was another gift in store," Captain Patrice Ribes said.
The boy was still sent to a local hospital for a checkup.
Moscow, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — The presidents of Russia and Belarus met in Moscow Tuesday for talks focused on an energy dispute that clouded ties between the two allies.
Before sitting down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko harshly criticized tax changes that left his country of 10 million people paying a higher price for Russian oil and gas.
Putin had countered by saying that despite the changes, Belarus still paid much less than other countries for Russian energy resources.
The Russian leader confirmed at the start of Tuesday's talks that he and Lukashenko would discuss the issue. Lukashenko said he hoped for a quick resolution.
The two met for more than four hours. Their respective media representatives said they agreed to have another meeting in the next week to iron out remaining differences.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for nearly a quarter-century, cracking down on dissent and the media. He has relied on loans and cheap energy from Russia to keep a Soviet-style economy afloat.
Despite the close political, economic and military ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbors, Lukashenko has bristled at what he described as Moscow's attempts to subdue Belarus.
Earlier this month, he accused some politicians in Russia of floating the prospect of incorporating Belarus and said he wouldn't let it happen.
Tunis, Dec 26 (AP/UNB) — Protests erupted Tuesday in Tunisia after the death of a journalist who set himself on fire to protest economic problems in the North African nation, prompting clashes with police and nationwide concern.
Journalist Abderrazak Zorgui posted a video online before his self-immolation in the struggling provincial city of Kasserine describing his desperation and calling for revolt. He expressed frustration at unemployment and the unfulfilled promises of Tunisia's 2011 Arab Spring revolution.
Authorities said Zorgui died of his injuries Monday soon after being taken to the hospital.
His actions prompted a protest Monday night in Kasserine that degenerated into violence, with police firing tear gas to disperse protesters who blocked roads and threw stones at police. Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiane Zaag said Tuesday that six police officers were injured and several people arrested in the protest.
A new protest was held Tuesday night in Kasserine, with new tensions with police, and other actions were reported elsewhere.
A similar self-immolation - by a street vendor lamenting unemployment, corruption and repression - led to nationwide protests fueled by social media that brought down Tunisia's long-time authoritarian president in 2011. That ushered in democracy for Tunisia and unleashed similar movements around the Arab world.
Zorgui's funeral was being held Tuesday in Kasserine, which has come to symbolize Tunisia's economic problems and social tensions. Unemployment and poverty are high, and the area has struggled for years against extremists in the nearby mountains who are linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
The Tunisian National Journalists' Union called for demonstrations and a possible strike in response to the journalist's death. In a statement, it accused the state of contributing to Zorgui's death by not cracking down on corruption.
Tunisian reporters expressed solidarity with Zorgui, lamenting precarious conditions for freelancers with no legal protections and low pay amid Tunisia's struggling economy.
"The reasons for this young man's suicide are poverty and marginalization, as well as the fragile situation of most journalists," said Latifa Labiadh of radio station Amal.
Jerusalem, Dec 25 (AP/UNB) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called early elections for April, setting the stage for a three-month campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader.
Riding high in the polls, Netanyahu appears all but certain to win a fourth consecutive term and a place in history as the country's longest-serving prime minister. Those bright prospects, however, could be derailed by a looming decision by the country's attorney general on whether to file charges against Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, facing the possibility of bribery and breach of trust charges in three different cases, made scant mention of these investigations at a gathering of his Likud Party as he announced plans for what is expected to be an April 9 vote.
Appearing loose and confident, he listed his government's accomplishments in office and said he hoped his current religious, nationalistic coalition would be the "core" of Israel's next government as well.
"We will ask the voters for a clear mandate to continue leading the state of Israel our way," he said to applause from party members.
Netanyahu, who also served a term in the late 1990s, has been prime minister for the past decade.
His supporters point to a humming, high-tech economy, his handling of security issues, particularly countering the threat of Iranian influence in the region, and his gains on the diplomatic stage, including a close alliance with President Donald Trump that has paid important dividends.
Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his withdrawal from the international nuclear deal were both welcomed by Netanyahu. The Israeli leader also has quietly forged ties with Sunni Arab states, further sidelining the Palestinians, who have severed ties with the U.S. because they believe Trump is biased against them.
The White House still has not released a long-awaited peace plan, and Monday's announcement could further delay its release.
But critics say these gains have come at a deep price to Israel's democratic ideals. Netanyahu's hard-line government has promoted a series of laws that critics say are aimed at muzzling liberal critics and sidelining the minority Arab population. They point to wide gaps between rich and poor and high cost of living, and say that by neglecting the Palestinian issue and continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, the country is on the path to becoming an apartheid-like binational state.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the election "the most fateful" since the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
"If we all act properly, on April 10 we will part with Netanyahu," he said on Hahadashot TV. "The state of Israel will get on a different path instead of this nationalist, racist, dark vision."
Barak called for the country's dovish and centrist parties to band together in a unified "bloc" in a bid to topple Likud.
Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the election was a battle for the "soul of the country."
For now, there does not appear to be anyone with the popularity or gravitas to topple Netanyahu.
One wild card is Benny Gantz, a popular former military chief who is flirting with the idea of entering politics. Opposition parties have been aggressively courting Gantz. But for now, he has not committed to joining any party.
Instead, the biggest threat appears to be posed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who must soon decide on whether to indict the prime minister.
Earlier this month, police recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery for promoting regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the country's main telecom company Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Bezeq's controlling shareholder to receive positive press coverage on the company's popular news site.
Police have also recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in return for favorable press coverage.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a media-fueled witch hunt. At Monday's Likud meeting, Netanyahu brushed off a reporter's question and said he expected the investigations to lead nowhere.
Mandelblit has not said when he expects to make a decision. The Justice Ministry announced Monday that deliberations were continuing and were "not dependent on political events."
Israeli law is unclear about whether a sitting prime minister must resign if charged with a crime, and Netanyahu has hinted that he will remain in office to fight any indictment.
But criminal charges, and the distraction of a protracted legal battle, could fuel calls for him to step aside.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlan, a key ally, said Monday that a prime minister "cannot serve" if he is indicted following a required hearing.
Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at Israel's Hebrew University, said the campaign would be dominated by "a discussion of whether Netanyahu should stay after, if he is prosecuted."
He said Netanyahu had settled on the April election, roughly seven months ahead of schedule, in part to "pre-empt" an indictment. The thinking is that it would be politically difficult for Mandelblit to indict, and potentially topple, a popular, newly re-elected prime minister.
"He wants to turn around to the attorney general and say 'before you decide to prosecute me pay attention. The people of Israel have re-elected me for a fourth time,'" Hazan explained.
An electoral victory would send a message that "you cannot overturn the results of a democratic election," he said.
Netanyahu's coalition has been roiled by internal divisions for months. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of a small, ultranationalist party, resigned as defense minister last month to protest what he perceived to be the government's weak response to rocket attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza.
That left Netanyahu with a fragile majority of just 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
But a new bill extending the military draft to Jewish ultra-Orthodox men appeared to be the final trigger for the government's downfall.
Ultra-Orthodox parties consider conscription a taboo. As a deadline for the legislation loomed, his religious coalition partners were demanding the legislation be weakened.
Earlier Monday, Lapid, a harsh critic of the religious parties, said he was rescinding his support for the draft bill, saying the planned compromise essentially rewarded draft dodgers.
As a result, Netanyahu convened his fellow coalition faction leaders and the decision was made to dissolve parliament and go to elections.
Chelyabinsk, Dec 25 (AP/UNB) — Residents of Chelyabinsk are expressing worry over industrial pollution after heavy smog enveloped the Ural Mountains city this month and remained for two weeks.
On Sunday, about 700 protesters braved temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) to demand cleaner air. They held banners reading "We want clean skies!" and "Stop poisoning our children!"
Low winds helped the thick grey layer of smog called "black sky" by the locals settle over the city of 1.2 million. The Chelyabinsk meteorological office reported that air pollution exceeded healthy levels before the smog dissipated.
"The ecological situation in the city is getting worse and worse, and the government does not want to take measures to correct it," protester Artur Abuzarov said during Sunday's rally.
The protest followed an earlier one in which participants tried unsuccessfully to force their way into the mayor's office. The situation went unreported in state-controlled media.
Locals say the pollution problem has persisted for years and they fear air quality will worsen further if a new copper mining enterprise opens next year as planned.
"We are suffocating, children are ill, the ecology is bad," said another demonstrator, Tatyana Pominova. "What is happening in Chelyabinsk is a complete disgrace. It is impossible to breathe and it is impossible to live."
Anastasia Zubareva, a doctor who specializes in conditions of the ear, nose and throat, attributed the city's high number of childhood illnesses to air pollution, noting that her patients only feel better when smog dissipates.
And it's not only children. Galina Gurina, 58, attributes her chronic headaches and asthma to industrial emissions.
Chelyabinsk officials have dismissed the residents' protests.
Vitaly Bezrukov, a local official who deals with environmental issues, acknowledged that power plants and other sites sporadically produce pollutants in concentrations that exceed permissible levels. But he said they do not pose a danger for people.