Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, 39, stands poised to claim the premiership after Enrico Letta resigned today. Letta’s own Democratic Party essentially canned him, the BBC says. Frustrations over Letta’s term include the highest unemployment rate in 40 years and a lack of promised corruption reforms. Letta held office a scant 10 months. Among his last words in office, according to aides: “It’s true, Italy does break your heart.” Leaders hope to conclude talks for the new government this weekend.
The Presidential Daily Brief
High-level talks between North and South Korea ended today. Both sides agreed to facilitate a reunion for families separated by the border, to stop the exchange of verbal insults and to continue future dialogue. In a rare concession, North Korea seems to have accepted the South’s refusal to delay a joint military exercise with the U.S. until after the planned reunion. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited South Korea earlier in the week, before moving on to Beijing, where he has asked for China to increase its support for North Korean nuclear disarmament.
The U.S. swept the podium in slopestyle skiing’s Olympic debut on Thursday, thanks to the performances of Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper. Meanwhile, the home crowd looked on in shock as veteran Russian figure-skating star Evgeni Plushenko bowed out with a back injury. His departure cleared the way for a record-breaking performance from Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu, who became the first skater ever to break 100 points in the short program. The U.S. has moved up to second in the medals count, tied with the Netherlands, with Norway still in the lead.
Thirteen police officers were killed in a bombing by the Taliban in Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, disrupting ongoing peace talks between the government and militants. Authorities fear that the Taliban is strengthening its hold on the city and that repeated targeting of officers is having a negative impact on the city’s police force. Officials are willing to use unusual measures to achieve a ceasefire, potentially including a traditional method known as “Tega,” which would require both parties to lay a stone at an appropriate site to represent their respect for the ceasefire.
Belgium has become the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for children of any age. Despite significant opposition from religious groups and some doctors, parliament passed the law by a wide margin of 86 votes to 44, with 12 abstentions. Child euthanasia will not be possible without parental consent and will only be available to terminally ill children experiencing unbearable pain who voluntarily request the procedure. Opponents argue that children cannot be expected to make such a significant decision, while supporters believe it’s inhumane not to extend that right to suffering children.
Italy’s PM Letta set to resign. (DW).
Indonesian volcano erupts, killing two and forcing 100,000 to flee. (CNN).
Virginia judge overturns gay marriage ban. (BBC).
States work to add Latinos to health rolls. (NYT).
‘The Waltons’ dad Ralph Waite dies aged 85. (CBS).
A single man in China has bought up all the odd-numbered seats for Shanghai’s premier Valentine’s Day showing of the film Beijing Love Story, effectively forcing couples to sit apart. The unnamed man launched his campaign after a bad break-up last year, and now says he hopes his stunt will encourage moviegoers to meet new people when they sit down to watch the film. Perhaps this jaded heart’s strange campaign might spark some new attractions this Valentine’s Day.
The successful genome sequencing of a one-year-old boy who lived 12,600 years ago has cast some light on the roots of Native American communities. The boy lived in what is now Montana and was one of the Clovis people, from whom 80 percent of modern Native Americans are believed to be descended. The genome sequence strengthens the claim that Native Americans originate from ancient people who traveled from Asia, rather than colonists from prehistoric Oceania or Europe. Previous studies have caused friction with Native Americans, so the authors of this study consulted Montana tribes when conducting their research.
Source: Scientific American
A $2.2 billion solar electricity plant in the Mojave Desert with the capacity to power 140,000 homes officially began operating on Thursday. Owned by Google, NRG Energy and BrightSource Energy, the complex spans five miles and can produce nearly 400 megawatts, making it the largest plant of its kind in the world. Environmentalists would normally applaud such a green initiative, but this one has activists in a flap. While solar power helps reduce global warming, it tends to turn up the heat for local birds, which get scorched by the reflected rays.
Source: Al Jazeera
George Clooney has stirred up trouble in the U.K. this week and drawn fire from London Mayor Boris Johnson for suggesting that the Parthenon Marbles — also known as the Elgin Marbles — should be returned to Greece. The priceless carvings were taken from Athens in the 19th century and currently reside in the British Museum. Johnson hyperbolically described it as a “Hitlerian” attempt to remove London’s cultural treasures. While Clooney may have lost a fan in Johnson, he’s gained the admiration of the Greek culture minister, who wrote a two-page open letter thanking the actor for his solidarity.
After years of public indifference to space exploration, China seems to have struck gold with Yutu, a social-media-savvy lunar buggy reminiscent of Wall-E, Pixar’s lovable robot. Two weeks ago, Yutu posted on the social network Weibo that it had experienced a “little problem” and might not survive the night, before falling silent. But on Thursday morning, Weibo burst into celebration as Yutu resurfaced with the words: “Hi, is anyone there?” The Chinese authorities may be wary of social media, but Yutu’s online persona turned a potential embarrassment into an epic saga — the little moon buggy that could.