Oman says more than 1,400 candidates are competing in the Gulf nation's first municipal elections, a concession following Arab Spring-linked unrest. The official Omani News Agency says the candidates, including 46 women, are vying for 192 seats on local councils that have no direct powers but will serve in an advisory role. Gulf Arab leaders have managed to ride out the region's upheavals, but have promised some limited reforms and offered financial incentives such as expanding state jobs.
Gunmen shoot 11 crossing into Iran
Gunmen have killed 11 Pakistanis and Afghans in a border town of south-western Pakistan as they were trying to cross to Iran to travel on to Europe as illegal migrants, officials said yesterday. Local government official Zubair Ahmed said the shooting happened on Friday in the Sunsar town of south-western Baluchistan province. It was not clear who was behind the attack, but hundreds of such Pakistanis and Afghans are captured by Iranian border guards every year for illegally trying to travel to Europe to find better jobs.
Bombing at rally kills nine in Pakistan
A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed nine people including a provincial government official at a political rally held yesterday by a party that has opposed the Taliban, officials said. Over 20 others were wounded by the blast, said police officer Sabir Khan. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing in a statement, reiterating the United Nations' support for Pakistani efforts "to combat the scourge of terrorism".
Grant settles phone-hacking action
British actor Hugh Grant has accepted a "substantial sum" after settling his phone-hacking damages action against the publishers of the now defunct News of the World, his lawyer said on Friday. The actor will donate the money to Hacked Off, a pressure group that helped bring about a public inquiry into press practices.
Kim planning new rocket development
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for the development of more powerful rockets after last week's successful launch of a satellite into space. The December 12 launch of a long-range rocket put the country's first satellite in orbit. The US, South Korea and others have condemned the launch as a test of ballistic missile technology banned under UN Security Council resolutions.
Karzai speaks out on corruption
Afghanistan's president says the countries that fund his government and military are to blame for the widespread corruption that undermines his efforts to establish rule of law in the war-wracked country. Hamid Karzai said the Afghan government has been making strides in cleaning up corruption within its own ranks. He argued that internal corruption was negligible compared with hundreds of millions spent by foreign governments in shady dealings.
Hostage freed after bank stand-off
Police say a hostage-taker at a German bank has freed the employee he was holding and turned himself in after a nine-hour stand-off with police. Berlin police said officials convinced the man, who had apparently sought to rob the bank on Friday evening, to free the 40-year-old employee and turn himself in. Nobody was injured.
Burma reveals nuclear research plans
Burma's military chief says the country plans to use nuclear technology for medical, research and energy purposes but will not develop atomic weapons. Min Aung Hlaing cited the need for more radiation equipment and research in the area of radioactive isotopes to treat cancer. There has long been speculation, bolstered by reports from defectors, that the country may be secretly developing a nuclear programme with the help of North Korea.
Mozambique minibus crash kills 14
Police in Mozambique say 14 people died when a tyre burst on a speeding minibus, causing the driver to lose control and hit an oncoming vehicle. Radio Mozambique said 11 people were also injured in the accident on Friday, 30 miles north of the capital, Maputo.
Chemical weapon fears grow in Syria
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says the Syrian government has consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught. US intelligence says the regime may be readying chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.
Two and a Half Men star Ashton Kutcher filed for divorce from actress wife Demi Moore on Friday in Los Angeles, following more than a year of separation, according to court documents. Kutcher, 34, cited irreconcilable differences.
'Gangnam Style' makes video history
South Korean rapper Psy's infectious viral hit song, Gangnam Style, made history on Friday as the first ever video on YouTube to reach one billion views.
'Wonderful Life' is top Christmas film
When it comes to Christmas films, It's a Wonderful Life can still melt critics' hearts nearly 70 years after it was released, according to a survey by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The 1946 redemption story edged out the 1942 musical Holiday Inn and Tim Burton's 1993 stop-motion fantasy The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Final goodbye to musician Shankar
Ravi Shankar's daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, along with the wife of late Beatle George Harrison, said their final goodbyes to the Indian sitar virtuoso on Thursday at a public memorial service in Encinitas, California. The legendary musician died on December 11 in Southern California. He was 92.
New crew arrives at Space Station
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying a multinational crew of three arrived at the International Space Station on Friday. The spacecraft carrying Chris Hadfield from the Canadian Space Agency, NASA's Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday.
China unveils new high-speed rail line
China will open the world's longest high-speed rail line this week when a link between Beijing and the southern metropolis of Guangzhou is inaugurated. The 2,298km line will begin full service on Wednesday, halving travel time to less than 10 hours.