EU approves Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (BNO NEWS) — Internet giant Google, Inc. on Monday received approval from the European Union (EU) to acquire telecommunications company Motorola.

The European Commission cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of smartphones and tablets developer Motorola Mobility by Google, the world’s largest internet search and search advertising company and developer of Android, which is one of the most popular mobile operating systems.

According to the Commission, the transaction was approved “mainly because it would not significantly modify the market situation in respect of operating systems and patents for these devices.”

“We have approved the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google because, upon careful examination, this transaction does not itself raise competition issues,” said Joaquín Almunia, Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy. “Of course, the Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the behavior of all market players in the sector, particularly the increasingly strategic use of patents.”

Meanwhile, Don Harrison, Google’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, expressed satisfaction following the EU’s approval.

“We’re happy that today the European Commission approved our proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which we announced in August,” Harrison stated through the company’s official blog. “This is an important milestone in the approval process and it moves us closer to closing the deal.”

Noting that the transaction is now waiting for decisions from other jurisdictions, Harrison underlined that the combination of Google and Motorola Mobility will help “supercharge” Android and enhance competition, as well as offer consumers “faster innovation, greater choice and wonderful user experiences.”

The estimated $ 12.5 billion transaction was first notified to the European Commission on November 25, 2011, prompting a review which has been carried out in cooperation with a number of competition authorities and in particular with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ, meanwhile, is expected to make its decision regarding the transaction later this week.

In its acquisition, Google is looking to take advantage of Motorola’s 17,000 patents, as well as its 7,500 pending patent applications.

As all smartphones and tablets need an operating system, the Commission’s investigation considered whether Google would be likely to prevent Motorola’s competitors from using Google’s Android operating system and showed Android helps to drive the spread of Google’s other services.

Consequently, given that Google’s core business model is to push its online and mobile services and software to the widest possible audience, the Commission stated, it is unlikely that Google would restrict the use of Android solely to Motorola, a minor player in the European Economic Area (EEA) as compared to operators such as Samsung and HTC.

In addition, all smartphones also need to adhere to certain telecommunications standards such as 3G or 4G/LTE. Motorola, as some other market participants, holds patents that are essential for these standards to operate.

Access to such “standard essential” patents is therefore crucial for players on the smartphone market. However, the Commission said it concluded that the proposed transaction would not significantly change the existing market situation in this respect.

Finally, the Commission also examined whether Google would be in a position to use Motorola’s standard essential patents to obtain preferential treatment for its services, including search and advertising.

The Commission found that Google already has many ways in which to incentivise customers to take up its services and that the acquisition of Motorola would not materially change this, concluding that the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the EEA or any substantial part of it.

The European Commission has the duty to assess mergers and acquisitions involving companies with a turnover above certain thresholds and to prevent concentrations that would significantly impede effective competition in the EEA or any substantial part of it.

The vast majority of mergers do not pose competition problems and are cleared after a routine review. From the moment a transaction is notified, the Commission generally has a total of 25 working days to decide whether to grant approval or to start an in-depth investigation.

Former Taliban defense minister Akhund died in Pakistani jail

KABUL/KARACHI (BNO NEWS) — Former Taliban defense minister Obaidullah Akhund died of heart disease in a Pakistani prison in March 2010, a Taliban spokesman confirmed on Monday. Little had been heard of Akhund since early 2007.

Akhund served as defense minister from September 1996 until late 2001 when the Taliban ruled large parts of Afghanistan. He was considered to be the third most senior Taliban leader with close links to Taliban leader Mohammed Omar and possibly al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed last year.

Akhund was arrested by Pakistani security forces in the southwestern city of Quetta in early 2007, but the Pakistani government never commented on what was the highest-ranking Taliban figure to be captured since the fall of the Taliban’s regime in late 2001.

News of Akhund’s arrest emerged via intelligence officials during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan in March 2007. Although intelligence officials said he was arrested in late February 2007, the Taliban said he had been arrested on January 3, 2007, while visiting the region.

On Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Akhund’s family recently received confirmation that he died of heart disease on March 5, 2010, while being held at a prison in the Pakistani city of Karachi. “To validate this distressing news, the family has attained trustworthy evidence which confirms his passing away,” Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban spokesman did not say how Akhund’s family confirmed his death. “It is still not established if this distinguished personality of the Islamic Ummah and Afghanistan passed away due to heart complications or if he was martyred due to torture while being imprisoned,” he added.

Mujahid said the death of Akhund leaves a void “which cannot be compensated” and urged the Pakistani government to provide details about the former defense minister’s detention, illness and death. “We also hold the International Red Cross responsible,” he said, criticizing the organization for not sharing information with them about the condition of Akhund and other Taliban inmates. “We also demand that they fill this shortcoming in the future as it is their obligation,” he said.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport reopens after man makes bomb threat

HAARLEMMERMEER, NETHERLANDS (BNO NEWS) — Dutch military police on Monday arrested a man who had locked himself in a toilet at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and claimed to be carrying a bomb, officials said. No explosives were found.

The incident began at around 10:45 a.m. local time when an unidentified white man, dressed in a white jacket, fled into toilets near a rooftop viewing area and shouted he was carrying an explosive device. Authorities then decided to evacuate departure terminals 1 and 2 as a precaution.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the terminals as heavily armed military police and the army’s bomb squad responded to the airport, which is Europe’s 4th busiest and the world’s 12th busiest by total passenger traffic. More than 49.8 million passengers passed through the airport in 2010.

Several hours later, just after 1 p.m. local time, the suspect peacefully surrendered to police and was taken into custody. The evacuation continued for several more hours until the army’s bomb squad determined there were no explosives in the man’s luggage.

“The facts, the identity of the suspect and his motive are still being investigated,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense said, giving no other details. Reports said the man was not carrying any identity papers and authorities were having difficulty communicating with him.

Airport spokeswoman Marianne de Bie said departure terminals 1 and 2 were resuming operations on late Monday afternoon. She said dozens of flights were delayed or canceled during the evacuation and said delays were likely to continue for the rest of the day.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport also received extensive international news coverage in December 2009 after 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The aircraft had departed Schiphol hours earlier and was bound for Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly had ties to al-Qaeda, has since pleaded guilty to trying to blow up the aircraft and is due to be sentenced later this week. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Presidential aide dies in DR Congo plane crash

KINSHASA, DR CONGO (BNO NEWS) — A close aide to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila was among five people killed on Sunday when a small plane crashed in the country’s east, the government confirmed on Monday.

The accident happened at around 1 p.m. local time on Sunday when the privately-owned aircraft was attempting to land at Kavumu Airport, which is located about 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the city of Bukavu in South Kivu province. A total of eight people were on board.

A spokesman for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), whose rescue unit responded to the scene of the accident, said the aircraft overshot the runway and crashed into a nearby farmland where two women were working.

The small aircraft was carrying several Congolese government officials, including senior presidential adviser Augustin Katumba Mwanke, finance minister Matata Ponyo Mapon, South Kivu governor Marcellin Cishambo Rohuya, and roving ambassador Antoine Ghonda.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior and Security Adolphe Lumanu Mulenda Bwana N’sefu said Mwanke, 48, died at the scene of the accident. He was a controversial political figure, with a 2002 report by a UN panel recommending sanctions against him for alleged illegal exploitation of DR Congo’s mineral wealth, but won re-election last year as a member of parliament from southern Katanga.

Both the pilot and co-pilot of the aircraft, which was reportedly owned by Mwanke, were also killed in the accident. The MONUSCO spokesman said two female farmers who were working on farmland near the airport were also killed when they were run over by the aircraft.

Mapon and Ghonda were seriously injured and rushed to a nearby hospital, according to government spokesman Lambert Mende. He said Rohuya suffered injuries which were considered to be less serious, but gave no other details.

Weather conditions in the area were good, and the cause of the accident was not immediately known. But some officials said the plane landed halfway down the runway and as a result was unable to stop in time. An airport official said the pilot possibly miscalculated the length of the runway.

Aviation accidents occur frequently in the African nation. Because of safety and security concerns, all airlines in DR Congo have been banned from operating in the European Union and a number of other countries.

In July 2011, at least 75 people were killed when Hewa Bora Airways flight 952, a Boeing 727 carrying 112 people, crashed while attempting to land during bad weather at Bangoka International Airport in Kisangani, the capital of Tshopo province.

And in April 2008, at least 40 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured when Hewa Bora Airways Flight 122 crashed into a residential area of Goma, a city in eastern DR Congo. Most of the casualties were on the ground.

Syrian military official ‘killed in Damascus’

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — A Syrian military official was killed by an “armed terrorist group” outside his house in Damascus on Saturday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

Brigadier General Dr. Issa al-Kholi, the head of a military hospital, was killed as he left his home in the north of Damascus. A SANA reporter was informed that three gunmen waited outside Dr. al-Kholi’s home in Rukn al-Din district and shot him, the agency claimed.

No other details were provided.

Meanwhile, activists reported that 15 people died on Saturday in the city of Homs, which has been under heavy attack in recent days. Activists say more than 400 people have been killed since last Saturday alone, the BBC reported.

The violence came a day after state media reported that 28 people were killed in two suicide bomb attacks in Syria’s second city of Aleppo. It was not immediately known who was behind the attack as the government blamed terrorists while opposition groups accused the government of staging the attacks for propaganda purposes.

The United Nations said the UN General Assembly will meet on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will brief Member States on the latest developments after a request from General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

Last week, the UN Security Council voted on a draft resolution to end the situation in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed over the past 10 months in a government crackdown against a popular uprising. The resolution called for an immediate cessation of violence by all parties and progress towards national dialogue that leads to a peaceful political resolution of the crisis.

However, permanent members Russia and China vetoed the draft resolution, drawing worldwide condemnation.

According to the most recent figures released by the United Nations in January, at least 5,400 people have been killed as a result of violence during the uprising. Syrian human rights and opposition activists say the figure has since surpassed 7,000 and includes hundreds of children.

At least 12 wounded in Lebanon clashes

BEIRUT (BNO NEWS) — At least 12 people, including several Lebanese soldiers, were wounded this weekend in renewed clashes in northern Lebanon, local media reported on Sunday.

Clashes erupted on Friday afternoon between the pre-dominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and the mainly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh in the northern coastal city of Tripoli. Security sources said that at least six soldiers and six civilians have been wounded since Friday.

Three people, including two Lebanese soldiers, were wounded on Saturday. In a statement, the army said one soldier was in critical condition, according to the Daily Star newspaper.

Security sources told the newspaper that the Lebanese Army has been ordered to carry out patrols, both on foot and in military vehicles, and arrest anyone found to be carrying weapons. The army said in the statement that a number of armed men have been arrested, while large quantities of arms and ammunition have been confiscated.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he had confidence that the army would resolve the matter, adding that he is in contact with army officials. “The Lebanese Army, its abilities and leadership we have faith in, is fulfilling its role … I am certain that the situation will be under control and the army will restore order,” Mikati, who is ending his official trip to France, told journalists in Paris.

Clashes broke out on Friday after midday prayers when 700 people marched from a mosque in Tripoli and demonstrated in the city center against the Syrian government. According to reports, rocket-propelled grenades were used during the clashes.

The ongoing clashes have raise fresh concerns about unrest spilling over into Lebanon as violence and turmoil continue to destabilize Syria. Thousands of Syrian nationals have been seeking refuge across the border in Lebanon due to the escalating political and human rights crisis in Syria.

Army colonel charged over mass rapes in Guinea

NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) — A Guinean court has filed charges against an army colonel accused of being responsible for mass rapes that occurred during a pro-democracy protest in the country’s capital in 2009. He is the highest-ranking official yet to be charged.

Lieutenant Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara was charged by a national court for the atrocities committed on September 28, 2009, during an opposition rally at a soccer stadium in Conakry. Guinean security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least 150 people, while 109 women were raped or otherwise sexually abused.

Margot Wallström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, welcomed the news, saying she is pleased by the new Government’s commitment to fight impunity and prevent and deter sexual violence. “Justice in Guinea has been delayed, but this signals that it cannot be denied,” she said.

“The recent charges are a welcome step in the right direction. They signal that no official is above the law, and no citizen is below it,” she added.

Wallström, who met with rape survivors during her visit to the country in November 2011, added that the legacy of the massacre and mass rape is far from over. She also urged the Government to protect the victims and their families and to ensure that such atrocities are never repeated.

Bomb blasts kill 28, injure hundreds in Syrian city of Aleppo

ALEPPO, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — At least 28 people were killed on early Friday morning when two suicide bombers targeted two security facilities in Syria’s second city of Aleppo, state-run media reported. More than 200 others were said to be injured.

According to the Ministry of Interior, the first attack happened at around 9 a.m. local time when a suicide bomber driving a white mini-bus broke through the security barrier at the entrance of a law enforcement building in the city’s al-Arkoub area. He then blew himself up.

Minutes after the bast, another suicide bomber also driving a white mini-bus blew himself up while trying to break into the military security branch in the New Aleppo area of the city. The government blamed “armed terrorist groups” for the attacks, while state media showed graphic footage of human remains among the rubble of the buildings.

The Syrian Interior Ministry confirmed that 28 people, including both civilians and members of the security forces, were killed while 235 others were injured. The death toll could not be independently verified due to reporting restrictions imposed by the Syrian government.

It was not immediately known who was behind the attack as the government blamed terrorists while opposition groups accused the government of staging the attacks for propaganda purposes.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the twin bomb blasts. “He extends his sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families of the victims as well as to the Government and people of Syria,” his spokesman said. “The Secretary-General reiterates that all violence is unacceptable and must cease immediately from all sides.”

Also on Friday, the United Nations said the UN General Assembly will meet on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will brief Member States on the latest developments after a request from General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

Last week, the UN Security Council voted on a draft resolution to end the situation in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed over the past 10 months in a government crackdown against a popular uprising. The resolution called for an immediate cessation of violence by all parties and progress towards national dialogue that leads to a peaceful political resolution of the crisis.

However, permanent members Russia and China vetoed the draft resolution, drawing worldwide condemnation.

According to the most recent figures released by the United Nations in January, at least 5,400 people have been killed as a result of violence during the uprising. Syrian human rights and opposition activists say the figure has since surpassed 7,000 and includes hundreds of children.

The Syrian government has repeatedly claimed that violent acts against protesters have been carried out by ‘terrorists dressed as soldiers,’ although international observers have rejected these claims. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad previously admitted that mistakes were made, but claimed protesters were no longer being targeted.

At least 11 killed after Somali smuggler boat capsizes

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BNO NEWS) — At least eleven people have been confirmed dead while 34 others remain missing after a boat capsized off the coast of Somalia earlier this week, the United Nations (UN) reported on Saturday.

According to survivors, the boat left on February 4 and was carrying 58 passengers and three smugglers who were attempting to sail towards Yemen. The survivors said the boat’s engine broke down shortly after taking off, after which the smugglers forced 22 passengers overboard.

The accident ultimately happened on Wednesday when the boat capsized in the Gulf of Aden after it had been adrift for five days in rough seas and bad weather. As of Friday, eleven bodies had been recovered on beaches near the village of Ceelaayo, located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Bossaso.

“UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards, adding that authorities in the Somali port town of Bossaso are investigating the incident. He called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

In addition to the fatalities, locals have also found at least thirteen survivors, including two women and two teenagers.

The UNCHR said that along with local authorities, their partners have coordinated and organized the transport of the survivors from the village of Qaw to Bossaso for medical treatment. Most of the survivors were reported to be suffering from skin burns caused by fuel inside the boat.

Every year tens of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians – fleeing violence, human rights abuses and poverty in the Horn of Africa – pay smugglers to ferry them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. However, many of the immigrants never make it to Yemen as the boats capsize or smugglers beat passengers to death, force them overboard, or disembark people too far from shores.

In 2009, the UNHCR teamed up with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other partners to alert people planning to cross the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden and spread awareness about the dangers.

But despite growing instability and worsening security in Yemen, a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants made the journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2011.

UPDATE 1 — Singer Whitney Houston dies at Beverly Hills hotel

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA (BNO NEWS) — Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Whitney Houston, one of the world’s best-selling music artists, was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel room on late Saturday afternoon, police said. She was 48.

Beverly Hills Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Mark Rosen said paramedics responded at approximately 3:43 p.m. local time after receiving a 911 call for medical aide at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. An ambulance arrived about two minutes later and Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. local time, he said.

Rosen said there were ‘no obvious signs’ of criminal intent, but did not comment whether Houston may have died as a result of a drug overdose. He said the singer was a guest at the hotel and had an entourage with her.

Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster, also confirmed her death but gave no other details.