A deadly explosion tore through a trolleybus during rush hour on Monday morning in Russia’s southern city of Volgograd, killing at least 14. The blast follows a suicide attack at a train station in the same city on Sunday that killed 17. Officials believe the attacks are linked. No one has claimed responsibility, but authorities fear the violence is related to a Chechen warlord’s directive for Islamist militants to derail the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi, due to begin in six weeks.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The 74 sailors aboard the scientific ship Shokalskiy, who have been stuck since Christmas day, could see their rescue ship just eight miles away. Hope turned to disappointment when the Chinese icebreaker was forced to abandon its attempt to reach the stranded ship by the same thick ice encasing the Shokalskiy. The next rescue attempt is likely an Australian icebreaker or an eventual airlift. Despite their situation, the crew is in good spirits: the ship’s kitchen is well-stocked, experiments continue apace, and some inquisitive penguins have kept them company.
One student has been killed and dozens injured in Cairo after police opened fire on protesters demonstrating against Egypt’s military government. Buildings at the Al-Azhar University were set alight by students unhappy with the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in July. The violence followed a day of clashes around the country that left five dead. The pro-Brotherhood protesters were described by state TV as terrorists who had been preventing other students from reaching the buildings to take part in exams by throwing rocks and setting tires on fire.
France’s Constitutional Council has approved President Francois Hollande’s controversial 75 percent income tax on earners of more than $1.38 million a year. The court had ruled the tax unconstitutional, but French legislators reworked the law so that firms rather than individuals will be liable. Top-earning soccer clubs went on strike to protest the tax earlier this year, and actor Gerard Depardieu left the country for Russia. Polls indicate that a majority of voters support the tax, which aims to reduce income inequality and budget deficits, even if they do not support Hollande, who has suffered some of the lowest approval ratings of any French leader in decades.
Stock markets tally up $6 trillion in gains in 2013. (Forbes).
Chinese police gun down eight “terrorists” in Xinjiang province. (Deutsche Welle).
Israel to release two dozen more Palestinian prisoners, build 1,400 new West Bank homes. (CSM).
El Salvador’s Chaparrastique volcano erupts for first time in 37 years. (BBC).
Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher is “fighting for his life” following a skiing accident in the French Alps, his doctors say. Schumacher, 44, was skiing off-piste with his son when he fell and hit his head on a rock. He suffered serious brain trauma, despite wearing a helmet, and arrived at a hospital in Grenoble in a coma. He underwent surgery and remains in critical condition. Considered by many to be the greatest driver in F1 history, Schumacher won 91 races in his 19-year career before retiring in 2012.
What would happen if you made your way into a black hole? Would your atoms be painfully “spaghettified” into a rope? Or would you be squished? Physicists disagree about the possibilities, and the true answer lies inside the black hole — if “inside the black hole” even exists. The traditional, Einstein view is spaghettification, but some, like Joe Polchinski, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, think otherwise. “There’s no inside at all,” Polchinski says, suggesting that it’s probably the “end of space itself.”
The EU won’t silence any critics crying “nanny state” following regulations limiting the amount of cinnamon bakers can use in their pastries. A common cinnamon called cassia contains coumarin, which can cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations. The new rules cap the spice at 15-50 milligrams per kilogram of dough. “It’s the end of the cinnamon roll as we know it,” said Hardy Christensen, head of the Danish Baker’s Association. Considering how little coumarin is found in a typical cinnamon roll, pastry lovers are probably more likely to die from obesity.
A recent study revealed that 18 percent of junkies in the U.S. bought their drugs from the online black market Silk Road before the FBI shut it down. A large number of users in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia used the site to buy MDMA, best known as ecstasy. Silk Road helped popularize the alternative BitCoin currency in order to facilitate untraceable transactions. The study strongly suggests the value of anonymizing digital currencies such as BitCoin and their potential for illegal activity, which will no doubt open the door to further criticism.
One of the all-time greats of mixed martial arts suffered a severe injury in the second round of a world middleweight Ultimate Fighting Championship rematch in Las Vegas. Current champion Chris Weidman checked a low kick by Anderson Silva – one of the Brazilian’s signature moves – and broke his leg. The two first met in July when Weidman unexpectedly knocked out “The Spider” to take the championship title. This could be a career-ending injury for Silva, 38. The gruesome nature of the ex-champ’s loss may revive debate on whether the UFC is too brutal.