Travel and Security Warnings for week of 25 to 31 December 2016

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Christmas Day Greetings from Limassol, Cyprus! 

Numerous PT's are travelling across the world during this festive period and as such, with so many gatherings of people for celebrations and the like, the security risk has been notably heightened, especially in major western cities. 

Fellow travellers take special care wherever you are and take a few moments to go through the below Travel and Security warnings for the week ahead 25 December to  31 December with your best interests in mind...

WARINGS

Asia: Several countries tighten security ahead of Christmas, New Year’s Eve 
Several countries are on high alert following foiled attacks in Indonesia. Jakarta local news reported raids and arrests of suspected militants who were planning to carry out attacks during the festive season. Indonesia plans to deploy 155,000 police and military personnel and increase security at churches, entertainment venues and public gatherings during Christmas and New Year holidays after police foiled a planned attack by an Islamic State-linked group for a Christmas-time suicide bombing on 21 December. The incident also prompted neighboring Malaysia to boost security at shopping malls, clubs and hotels, particularly after it reported the recent arrests of seven people for suspected links with IS. 

Australia: Security and Cyclone
Security: Australia is also likely to tighten security after it thwarted an Islamic State-inspired planned attack in Melbourne on 23 December 2016 following several arrests and raids across the city.

Cyclone: Western Australia is set to face disruption from Tropical Cyclone Yvette, which is expected to make landfall between Broome and Port Hedland on Christmas Day. Heavy rains and flash floods are possible if the storm gathers intensity. Ahead of the cyclone, the mining hub of Western Australia was hit by a giant dust cloud on 22 December. Authorities have also said that the peak of the cyclone season – which lasts from November to April – would likely be in January and February 2017. 

Philippines: Typhoon to make landfall in Catanduanes over Christmas 
Heavy rains and strong winds are forecast for the Philippines over Christmas, with Typhoon Nock-ten expected to make landfall in Catanduanes island on Christmas Day. It is then expected to hit the country's main island of Luzon, including the capital Manila, on 26 December. Philippine authorities have warned of potentially deadly 2 metre waves along the east coast, as well as landslides and flash floods from heavy rains. Authorities have urged hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. Disruption to travel and movement is also likely. On 24 December, local TV showed footage of long lines of trucks, cars and vehicles stranded at Bicol ports after the coastguard shut down ferry crossings to nearby islands as a precaution.  

United States: Winter storm warnings in west, mid-west 
Winter storm and blizzard warnings and watches are in effect in the west and mid-west of the country, from Nevada and Colorado up through the Dakotas and into northern Minnesota as 5- 38 cm of snow along with strong gusts were forecast for 24-25 December. Inclement weather already led to the cancellation of 620 flights on 23 December, while authorities in Oregon shutdown Interstate 84 between Baker City and LaGrande for several hours on the same day after snow reduced visibility to zero. Over the Christmas weekend, freezing rain and flurries are expected to cover roadways with an icy glaze From New Mexico to northeastern Wisconsin, while thunderstorms were expected for northern Texas, central Oklahoma and southern Kansas and Missouri. Road travel is likely to be disrupted, causing major congestion as some 94 mn Americans are expected to travel by road over the holiday season. Further disruption to air travel should also be expected.  

Jamaica: UK authorities warn of crime in Kingston, Montego Bay
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued an update to its travel advice for Jamaica. The advice warns crime levels are high, particularly in and around certain areas of Kingston and Montego Bay. In particular, the advice calls for caution in parts of Montego Bay, including Flankers, Barrett Town, Norwood, Glendevon, Rose Heights and Mount Salem.

The Week Ahead

25 December

Algeria: Finance workers to carry out five-day strike 
The SNAPAP public workers' union called for financial-sector workers to carry out a five-day national strike, calling on authorities respond to their call for a dialogue over worker demands. If the strike goes ahead, it is likely to impact bank services nationwide. 

France: Transavia France pilots on strike 
Pilots working for Air France’s low-cost subsidiary Transavia are planning to go on strike between 23 to 26 December over a pay dispute with the airline. Of Transavia's 260 pilots, around 100 are employed by Air France, but there has been no indication of how many pilots will join the strike. Passengers are advised to check Transavia’s website prior to travel.

Morocco: Education workers to protest in Casablanca 
According to local media reports, education workers will protest in Casablanca as part of a series of demonstrations against education cuts. There was no immediate indication of how many people would participate in the demonstration, though previous protests have drawn thousands of people. The demonstration is likely to disrupt travel in central areas of the city, including the Avenue Hassan II and Boulevard Hassan I.

27 December 

Pakistan: Security in Sindh to be tightened ahead of Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary 
Security in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh – the hometown of former premier Benazir Bhutto – in Sindh province is likely to be intensified ahead of the ninth anniversary of her death. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party will hold a rally and remembrance ceremony in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, and previous years have seen tens of police checkpoints established around the Bhutto family’s grave. Large crowds could assemble as Bhutto’s son Bilawal is expected to speak at the rally. Political elements may also use the occasion to stage anti-government protests, and there is potential for clashes if the crowds turn unruly, as police typically respond to potential unrest with force. 

Spain: Temporary workers to protest in Seville 
More than 35,000 temporary workers are expected to march in Seville over their precarious working conditions. The protesters are expected to rally outside Torretriana, the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance and Public Administration, with road closures around the area likely. Temporary workers from the cities of Cádiz, Málaga, Huelva, Jaén and Córdoba are also expected to join the protest. 

28 December 

India: Bank unions call for protest against demonetisation 
The All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and the All India Bank Officers Association (AIBOA) have called on their members across the country to stage a protest to demand that the government ensure adequate cash at all banks and restore all ATMs, amid ongoing cash shortages following the demonetisation of two large notes. The unions have also called for transparency in cash supply, as well as compensation for bank employees and officers for overtime over the past month, after the government unexpectedly withdrew 86 percent of the currency notes in circulation in November in an attempt to curb graft and counterfeiting. Banking services, already facing disruption due to demonetisation and limits on cash withdrawals, are likely to be further limited. 

Somalia: Violence likely if scheduled election goes ahead  
Violence is expected ahead of and during the presidential election in Somalia, although it may not take place on 28 December as the vote has been postponed four times since 10 September. If the vote does go ahead, violence is likely throughout the country as past elections have seen substantial clashes at polling stations. Islamist militant group al-Shabaab has also denounced the vote and vowed to interrupt the process. In light of the threat, security measures are expected to be significantly increased, with a greater number of military checkpoints and patrols in and around Mogadishu and other urban centres. The lead up to the election has seen multiple suicide bomb attacks, as well as clashes between the militia and security forces, notably in Mogadishu and Galkayo.  

29 December

Argentina: Fuel stations to strike for 48 hours in Santa Fe 
Fuel stations in Santa Fe city will be closed on 29 and 30 December due to a labour dispute with local authorities. Those planning on driving in the city are advised to stock up on petrol. Stations will also be closed for the holidays from 2200 hrs local time on both 24 and 31 December until 0600 hrs the following day.  

Haiti: Presidential election results likely to trigger unrest  
The final results of the November presidential elections are expected to be released on 29 December, heightening the risk of protests, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Past protests in response to the election have seen roadblocks and violent clashes between police and protesters. The release of preliminary election results on 29 November saw officers deploy tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators, with the sound of gunfire also reported by the US Embassy.  

31 December 

UK: Southern Rail conductors to strike for 72 hours 
Train conductors belonging to the RMT union plan to stage a three day strike starting on 31 December and ending on 2 January. Travel is expected to be severely disrupted with reduced service on most routes. The strike centres on the issue of driver-only operation of trains.  

Key Incidents During the Past Week

Australia
Dec 23 - Police claim to foil Christmas terrorist plot in Melbourne: Police in Victoria State said an Islamic State-inspired planned attack in Melbourne had been foiled after several arrests and raids across the city. Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton claimed that those detained planned to use explosives, knives and guns to attack busy locations, including Melbourne's Flinders Street train station, Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral, according to media reports. Six men and one woman were arrested after weeks of surveillance and at least four of them will face court charges. The individuals are thought to have been self-radicalised, inspired by groups such as IS. The latest development brings the total number of foiled attacks in Australia since 2014 to 12. 
Dec 21 - 6.5-magnitude earthquake hits north: A strong 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck northern Australia and parts of Indonesia, although there were no reports of damages or casualties. The undersea quake hit about 278 km east-northeast of Dili in East Timor at a depth of 158 km, the US Geological Survey said. Residents in Darwin reported widespread tremors, while Indonesia's disaster agency said residents in the southwest of the Moluccas island chain also felt the quake. Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the so-called Ring of Fire, a 40,000-km arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that encircles much of the Pacific Ocean.

Austria
Dec 20 - Authorities investigate Moroccan asylum-seeker over terror links in Salzburg: Austrian prosecutors announced that they are investigating a Moroccan asylum-seeker over suspected membership of a terrorist organisation. Prosecutors were acting on an intelligence clue suggesting that the asylum-seeker and some others have been planning to perpetrate a terror attack in Salzburg over Christmas or the New Year period. Investigators discovered several thousand dollars and some electronic equipment in the migrant’s residence, though no potentially dangerous item was discovered. European security services are on high alert after a suspect drove a truck into Berlin’s Christmas Market, killing at least 12 people and injuring a further 50 on 20 December. 

Argentina
Dec 19 - Nationwide transport strike halts flights, trains: Flights, trains, buses and subways were paralysed across the country in a morning strike by transportation workers opposing President Mauricio Macri´s moves to block an income tax cut. Flag carrier Aerolineas Argentinas cancelled all flights for the morning, and the Buenos Aires subway and commuter train system ground to a halt as the Argentine Confederation of Transport Workers (CATT) staged a walkout until 1200 hrs local time. The lack of transportation also led to higher than usual levels of congestions on roads. Macri’s economic policies have been targeted by a wave of strikes and protests in recent months. 

Belgium
Dec 20 - Police detain one, seize weapons in Brussels: Belgian authorities announced that they have detained one person, and seized a weapon during a raid in the capital city of Brussels. The raid took place in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of the capital, notorious for being home to the Brussels attackers who killed 35 people in coordinated suicide attacks in March 2016. The suspect is under investigation and will face prosecutors on 20 December.

China
Dec 23 - Authorities report two human fatalities from bird flu: Two people in the province of Anhui have died of bird flu infection, the first fatalities among this winter's avian flu cases in China. Authorities have so far reported seven cases of the infection, which typically strikes in winter and spring. The deaths come after Hong Kong and Macau recently recorded their first bird flu infection of the season, while neighbouring Japan and South Korea have culled thousands of birds for fear of a regional breakout of the infection. The last major bird flu outbreak in mainland China three years ago killed 36 people and led to more than USD 6 bn in losses for the agricultural sector, according to Reuters.
Dec 22 - Traffic accidents kill 58,000 in 2015: A report released by the National People's Congress – China’s parliament – said that 58,000 people had died in more than 180,000 traffic accidents in 2015. Traffic law violations caused almost 90 percent of the road accidents where people died or were injured in 2015, with the total number of such infractions reaching 442 mn, according to the report. Overloaded trucks and poor road and safety facilities in rural areas also contributed to the casualties. However, a World Health Organization report in 2015 claimed that official Chinese statistics seriously under-reported actual deaths, with a study estimating that 261,367 people died in 2013, almost 4.5 times more than the official number for the same period. 
Dec 20 - Beijing returns underwater drone to Washington: China has returned a US underwater drone taken by one of its naval vessels in the disputed South China Sea about 50 nm northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines on 15 December. The Pentagon said the vehicle had been handed over to the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin near where it had been "unlawfully seized", Reuters reported. The incident triggered diplomatic protest from Washington, which called on China to abide by international law and refrain from further efforts to impede lawful US activities.

Costa Rica
Dec 20 - Security minister express concern over increase in organized crime: Minister for Security Gustavo Mata reported that an increase in homicides in the country, which stand at 552 so far in 2016, as well as an increase in organized crime gangs, is of growing concern. Mata pointed to an increase in multiple homicides, disputes between gangs and drugs sales in 2016. Central America is known for high levels of crime, largely due to its strategic position as a route for drug trafficking. 

France
Dec 21 - Transavia France pilots to strike from 23 to 26 December: A group of pilots working for Air France’s low-cost subsidiary Transavia are planning to go on strike from 23 to 26 December over a pay dispute with the airline. Of Transavia's 260 pilots, around 100 are actually employed by Air France. It is not known how many pilots will join the strike. 

Germany
Dec 24 - Authorities search for accomplices of Berlin attacker: German authorities said they were looking for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker who was killed in a shootout in Milan on 23 December. Tunisian Anis Amri is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to run over people at a Berlin Christmas market on 19 December, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State. Authorities have faced criticism for their failure to monitor Amri, who was reportedly a known criminal with links to Islamist militancy
Dec 23 - Police arrest two for planning terror attack in Duisburg: German police have arrested two Kosovo-born brothers on suspicion that they were planning to attack a shopping mall in the city of Duisburg, in Ruhr region. The two brothers, aged 28 and 31, were reportedly planning to target the Centro mall in nearby Oberhausen. Germany has stepped-up its security measures after a truck attack on Berlin’s Christmas Market killed 12 people on 19 December.
Dec 21 - IS claims responsibility for Berlin truck attack: The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility for a truck attack on Berlin’s Christmas Market on 19 December in an online statement which called the attacker “a soldier of the Islamic State”. IS claimed that Berlin was targeted because of Germany’s participation in the coalition against the terrorist group based in Syria and Iraq. The claim of responsibility comes a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that the incident was a “terrorist attack”. German authorities announced that the Pakistani asylum-seeker they initially arrested for perpetrating the attack had been released. German authorities announced on 20 December that the suspect was still at large, possibly armed, and seeking to harm members of the public.

Haiti
Dec 24 - Presidential election results likely to trigger unrest on 29 December: The final results of the November presidential elections are expected to be released on 29 December, heightening the risk of protests, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Past protests in response to the election have seen roadblocks and violent clashes between police and protesters. The release of preliminary election results on 29 November saw officers deploy tear gas and water cannons on protesters, with the sound of gunfire also reported by the US Embassy. 

India
Dec 23 - Assailants torch government offices in Manipur: Unidentified assailants set fire to three government offices across the northeastern state of Manipur, including the office of the recently created Kamjong district. Authorities said the incident was likely related to ongoing unrest that began after the recent creation of seven new districts in the state, which the United Naga Council (UNC) claims will bifurcate ancestral lands of the Naga people. In response, the UNC has imposed an indefinite economic blockade on the National Highways of Manipur since 1 November in protest, hampering the supply of essential items and leading to violent protests, the Hindustan Times reported.

Indonesia
Dec 21 - Police kill three suspected militants outside Jakarta, foil plot: Indonesian counter-terrorism police foiled a planned suicide bombing attack and killed three suspected militants in a gunfight during a raid at 0930 hrs local time on a housing complex in Setu district, South Tangerang, Banten, outside Jakarta. A police spokesperson told the Jakarta Post that the suspects were planning to carry out a stabbing attack against personnel at a police post near the Eka Hospital in the Bumi Serpong Damai area of the greater Jakarta region and then detonate a suicide bomb as a crowd gathered. A total of five bombs were found at the house. Details on whether the suspects were affiliated with a specific terrorist group were not immediately released. Police have conducted several raids and arrests, including would-be female suicide bombers, in recent weeks amid fears of an attack during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 
Dec 21 - Tokyo, Jakarta to cooperate on maritime security: Tokyo and Jakarta agreed to cooperate on maritime security in a deal that will help Indonesia strengthen its maritime capacity and promote economic development of remote islands, both countries said. The development is seen as an attempt to bolster defences against China's aggresive claims in the South China Sea. Indonesia does not have any disputes with China, although Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea overlap with Indonesia's exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands, an issue that prompted Jakarta to hold military drills there in October.
Dec 15 - EU seeks increased cooperation on maritime security: The European Union (EU) is seeking to expand security cooperation with Indonesia under the recently reactivated EU-Indonesian parliamentarian friendship group, which aims to bridge understanding between the two partners. The EU delegation is particularly seeking cooperation to address the frequent kidnappings near the maritime borders between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Euro bloc reportedly seeks to help prevent further kidnappings that affected Indonesian nationals. In the past year, more than ten Indonesian nationals were kidnapped by Filipino militant group Abu Sayyaf, with four fishermen still being held hostage.

Italy
Dec 23 - Police claim to kill Berlin Christmas Market attack suspect in Milan: Italian interior minister announced that the Berlin truck attack suspect, the 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri, has been killed in a shootout in a suburb in Milan. The announcement came after a four-day manhunt that encompassed the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia as well as in Aalborg in northern Denmark where Danish authorities were reportedly conducting an operation in the early hours of 23 December to detain the same man. Anis Amri was the prime suspect in the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas Market that killed 12 and injured more than 50 people on 19 December.
Dec 23 - Government confirms death of Berlin Christmas Market attacker: The Italian interior minister confirmed that the Berlin Christmas Market attacker, Anis Amri, had been killed in a firefight with Italian security personnel. Amri had opened fire on police officers asking for identification papers in the Sesto San Giovanni area in Milan. The Islamic State (IS) had issued a claim of responsibility for the shootout which reportedly injured one police officer. The group released a video clip of Amri pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Amri is thought to have hijacked a truck and driven it into a Christmas Market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 49 people.

Israel
Dec 24 - Government recalls ambassadors to Wellington, Dakar after UN vote: Israel has withdrawn its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding the withdrawal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman Ofir Gendelman said the action had been taken against countries that have tabled the draft resolution to the UN and have diplomatic relations with Israel. New Zealand and Senegal co-sponsored the UN resolution. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement-building in West Bank and East Jerusalem, after the US – a traditional ally of Israel – abstained from the vote. The resolution was the first adopted by the council on Israel and Palestine in nearly eight years. The US abstention came despite domestic political pressure on President Barack Obama to veto the resolution, with President-elect Donald Trump -- who appears to advocate for positive relations with Israel -- later stating that things would be different after he took office in January 2017. Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements in West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is widely seen as an obstacle to the peace process
  
Malaysia
Dec 23 - Authorities on high alert for festive season after foiled plot in Indonesia: Malaysia is on high alert for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve period, with local media reporting an increased presence of armed soldiers at shopping malls, clubs and hotels, after neighbouring Indonesia said it had thwarted a planned terrorist attack intended for the festive season. Larger malls have deployed their own security teams, numbering more than 100 men each, to complement auxiliary police, according to The Star newspaper. The use of CCTV has also been increased. The heightened security measures follow recent police statements that Malaysian authorities had arrested seven people for suspected links to the Islamic State.
Dec 20 - Police arrest seven for suspected links with Islamic State: Malaysian police said they had arrested seven people, including four foreigners, for suspected links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group and for planning attacks in Malaysia and abroad, Reuters reported. One foreigner was arrested for suspected links to IS and attempting to obtain details on security at an international school in Kuala Lumpur, while another was detained for helping him. A third foreigner had been detained in the Middle East in 2010 under suspicion of being involved with al-Qaeda, while another foreign national suspected of having links to IS tried to smuggle firearms into Indonesia, and also attempted to enter Myanmar to launch an attack, police said. Authorities have been on high alert since IS-linked militants carried out an attack in the capital of neighbouring Indonesia in January and claimed a bomb attack in Puchong, Malaysia, in June.

Malta
Dec 23 - Hijackers divert Libya's Afriqiyah Airways plane to country: Maltase Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways internal flight has been hijacked and landed at Malta International Airport. Muscat added that emergency measures have been put in place in the airport. Media reports indicate that there are two hijackers on the plane. Airport officials said the flight has 118 passengers on board. 
Update: Airplane hijackers surrender, free all passengers: The hijackers that took over the domestic Libyan Afriqiyah Airways flight surrendered to the police, freeing all 118 people on board the flight. Reports remained unclear about the amount of hijackers, but passengers had reported the hijackers have claimed support to late former leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi. One of the hijackers had claimed to have a hand grenade and threatened to detonate it in the plane. Military sources claimed initial information suggested the hijackers were attempting to claim political asylum in Malta. Airport security in Libya has been lax amid widespread factional violence and European airspace had been closed to all flights from Libya since 2014.

Mexico
Dec 22 - Authorities report 14 percent decrease in kidnaps in Mexico City: According to Mexico City’s justice attorney Rodolfo Ríos, the rate of abductions in Mexico City declined by 14 percent this year from the same period in 2015. A total of 43 kidnap events have been recorded this year. Ríos added that 11 gangs dedicated to kidnap have also been arrested. The actual number of kidnaps that took place is likely to be higher, however, as the majority go unreported. 
Dec 20 - Explosion at fireworks market near Mexico City kills at least 31: An explosion at a fireworks market outside Mexico City killed at least 31 people and injured more than 70 others. The cause of the explosions was not immediately confirmed. Authorities have instructed people to avoid the area and keep roads clear. The blast took place at San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, some 32km outside the capital. 

Philippines
Dec 20 - Abu Sayyaf kidnaps four Filipino fishermen in Celebes Sea: According to the Philippine military, Abu Sayyaf (ASG) kidnapped four Filipino fishermen from a boat called F/B Ramona 2. Other fishermen who discovered the boat found that the skipper, mechanic and two crewmen as well as the boat’s GPS and radio equipment were missing. Filipino troops have been alerted to look for the fishermen in the nearby Sulu province where Abu Sayyaf is known to keep its hostages while waiting for ransom payments. ASG has conducted several kidnappings for ransom in the Sulu and Celebes seas since March 2016.

Russia
Dec 20 - Putin promises ambassador assassination will not harm ties: Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the assassination of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Ankara, as a provocation aimed at derailing Russia-Turkey ties and the peace process in Syria, and promised that the incident will not harm improving Russian-Turkish relations. The announcement came shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s similar denouncement of the attack. Both leaders confirmed that the planned tripartite meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Iran on 20 December would continue as scheduled. A joint Russian-Turkish committee will reportedly be formed to investigate the assassination. 

South Korea 
Dec 24 - Thousands expected to protest in Seoul against Park: Tens of thousands of people were expected to gather in Seoul on 24 December for a ninth straight week to demand the immediate ouster of impeached President Park Geun-Hye, organisers told the AFP. The gathering would be a mix of protests and Christmas celebrations, according to organisers. Although parliament voted to impeach Park on 9 December, she has said she will wait for a Constitutional Court to decide the matter. Previous anti-government protests have drawn large crowds in Seoul and disrupted movement, although they have mostly been peaceful
Dec 24 - Seoul spy chief says Pyongyang capable of conducting nuclear test at any time: North Korea is capable of conducting another nuclear test at any time, Lee Byoung-ho, director of the South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said, based on activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Lee also said that Pyongyang had conducted a land-based ejection test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile at its Sinpo Shipyard earlier in December. Pyongyang carried out its fourth and fifth nuclear tests in 2016, resulting in the imposition of fresh UN sanctions.

Saudi Arabia
Dec 20 - MERS kills two in Buriadah, Taif: The health ministry announced that two people had died as a result of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), increasing the total number of deaths from the virus to 628 since September 2012. The latest deaths occurred in Taif and Buriadah, however officials said that no new cases had been reported in the last 24 hours. 

Switzerland
Dec 19 - Shooting at Islamic prayer centre injures three in Zürich: A shooting involving an unknown number of shooters injured three at an Islamic prayer centre on the corner of Eisgasse and Militärstrasse in Zurich at 1731 hrs local time. The police cordoned off the area. According to local media reports, one possible shooter was on the run. Police officials confirmed the shooting but did not give further details on the identity and motivation of the shooter.  
Dec 20 – Update Police confirm death Islamic praying centre attacker dead: Swiss police have confirmed that the gunman who injured three people in an Islamic praying centre in Zurich is dead. The police found a dead body about 300 m away from the scene of the shooting, and later confirmed that it belongs to the assailant. An official statement is scheduled for the afternoon of 20 December. The praying centre is known to be frequented by Zurich’s Somali and Eritrean community. 

Turkey
Dec 19 - Gunman assassinates Russian ambassador to ‘avenge Aleppo’: The Russian ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, was shot down by an off-duty policeman who reportedly claimed he was ‘avenging Aleppo’. The assailant, who has been identified as a 22-year old policeman named Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, used his police ID to enter the arts exhibition. The suspect waited behind Karlov while he was delivering his inaugural speech, before firing eight shots at the ambassador at close range. Eyewitnesses state that they mistook the assassin for a bodyguard due to his suit and calm behaviour. After shooting Karlov, the assailant recited several verses from the Quran in Arabic, and announced in Turkish that he shot Karlov to “remind people of Syria” and “avenge Aleppo”. He was killed in the police raid that followed. Ambassador Karlov, who was initially heavily wounded, reportedly succumbed to his wounds while being taken to hospital. Authorities are investigating the motives behind the attack, while Russian and Turkish officials announced that a joint committee will be formed to investigate.
Dec 20 - Boat capsize kills five, eight refugees rescued off Balikesir: A refugee boat capsize has killed five refugees, four children and a woman, while eight refugees were rescued by the coast guard off the coast of Balikesir, near the Greek island of Lesbos. Thousands of people have tried to reach Europe by making a short but dangerous sea journey across the Aegean in recent months. Worsening weather conditions during winter make the journey more dangerous as boats capsize due to strong winds. 
Dec 20 - Man opens fire outside US Embassy, hours after assassination of Russian ambassador: Turkish security forces have detained a man who fired shots in the air in front of the US Embassy in Ankara, only hours after the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov at the Cankaya Modern Arts Centre. The suspect, identified as a man named Şahin S, fired eight to nine times into the air with a shot gun he was concealing in his coat. Police immediately cordoned off the area around the US embassy, which is only a few hundred metres away from the arts centre where the assassination occurred. The US consulate in Ankara issued a security warning in response to the incident, urging its citizens to avoid travelling to US consulates in Istanbul, Ankara, and Adana. Police are now investigating the motive behind the incident.

Ukraine
Dec 24 - Separatists, government agree to new ceasefire deal in east: Separatist insurgents in the east and Ukrainian forces agreed to a ceasefire deal that came into effect midnight on 24 December and is expected to last through the holiday season, according to media reports. However, separatist mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency claimed government troops had opened fire at least 140 times since midnight, while the government said that rebels had opened fire four times at three different locations. The conflict in eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014, has killed more than 9,600 people.

United Kingdom
Dec 23 - Court convicts two men for funding terrorism in Syria: The Old Bailey court convicted Syed Hoque and Mashoud Miah for using aid convoys to funnel money to terrorist groups in Syria. The men had used Muslim community-led convoys without their knowledge, including the mission which had led to the kidnapping and execution of British national Alan Henning in October 2014. Charity workers linked to the funds were cleared of all charges.
Dec 21 - PM May to outline Brexit plan in January: British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would outline more of her Brexit negotiation plans in January 2017, emphasising that she plans to form a completely new relationship with the EU rather than opt out of certain elements of the current arrangement. The announced date is expected to substantiate May’s approach to Brexit, which critics claim has offered very little insight into the process that will take UK out of the EU. May also reiterated her intention to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by March 2017, starting the Brexit negotiation process.
Dec 21 - Metropolitan police amend public ceremony procedures after Berlin attack: London’s Metropolitan Police announced that it would make changes to security procedures for a military ceremony which takes place several times a week in the wake of the truck attack on Berlin’s Christmas Market which killed 12 people and injured 50 others. Metropolitan Police said that Constitution Hill, the Queen Victoria Memorial, Spur Road, Link Road and The Mall up to the junction with Marlborough Road would be closed to vehicles between approximately 1045 hrs and 1230 hrs on the days of Changing the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. The closure will occur initially for a trial period of three months, until February 2017. Security services are stepping up measures against terrorist attacks in the wake of Berlin attack on 19 December.

United States
Dec 24 - Winter storm warnings in west, mid-west: Winter storm and blizzard warnings and watches were in effect in the west and mid-west of the country, from Nevada and Colorado up through the Dakotas and into northern Minnesota, as 5-38 cm of snow along with strong gusts were forecast for 24-25 December. Inclement weather already led to the cancellation of 620 flights on 23 December, while authorities in Oregon shutdown Interstate 84 between Baker City and LaGrande for several hours on the same day after snow reduced visibility to zero. Over the Christmas weekend, freezing rain and flurries are expected to cover roadways with an icy glaze From New Mexico to northeastern Wisconsin, while thunderstorms were expected for northern Texas, central Oklahoma and southern Kansas and Missouri. Road travel is likely to be severely disrupted, causing major congestion as some 94 mn Americans are expected to travel by road over the holiday season.
Dec 20 - President places sweeping ban on offshore drilling in Atlantic, Arctic: Outgoing President Barack Obama permanently banned offshore oil and gas drilling in the "vast majority" of US-owned northern waters. Obama has designated millions of hectares in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans as indefinitely off limits to future leasing. Canada also committed to a similar measure in its own Arctic waters, in a joint announcement with Washington. While Canada will review the move every five years, the White House insists the president’s declaration is permanent. Any decision by US president-elect Donald Trump to reverse the decision would be open to a legal challenge. 

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