- - Monday, January 2, 2012

IRAN

Navy tests cruise missile as part of drill

TEHRAN — Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile on Monday, during a drill that the country’s navy chief said proved Tehran is in complete control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world’s oil supply.

The missile, called Ghader, was described as an upgraded version of a missile that has been in service before. The official IRNA news agency said the missile “successfully hit its intended target” during the exercise.

No other details were released about Ghader. An earlier version of the same cruise missile had a range of 124 miles and could travel at low altitudes.

On Sunday, Iran’s navy test-fired an advanced surface-to-air missile that state TV said is designed to evade radar.

Iran’s 10-day navy drill, which ends Tuesday, was Tehran’s latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its nuclear program. The exercise came amid conflicting comments from Iranian officials over Tehran’s intentions to close the Strait of Hormuz, and U.S. warnings against such an ominous move.

UNITED KINGDOM

Cameron predicts tough year ahead

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday predicted that the Summer Olympics and the queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration will raise Britain’s profile on the international stage, but he predicted 2012 still will be a tough year.

“There are fears about jobs and paying the bills,” he said in a video message meant to mark the new year. “I know how difficult it will be to get through this, but I also know that we will.”

Rising joblessness and the European financial crisis have weighed heavily on Mr. Cameron’s government, which came to power in 2010 on the back of promises to control the country’s debt and restore economic growth.

NIGERIA

Outcry arises as fuel prices double with subsidy removed

LAGOS — Irate drivers in Africa’s most populous nation paid more than twice the usual price Monday after the government quietly removed a long-cherished consumer subsidy that had kept gas affordable, prompting fears of strikes and unrest.

Gas powers Nigeria’s generators because the national electricity supply is sporadic at best, and fuel also keeps engines running in traffic that can snarl for hours. The government’s announcement - made over a long holiday weekend - drew outrage.

“This New Year ‘gift’ by the presidency is callous, insensitive and is intended to cause anarchy in the country,” said a joint statement by two unions that said they were planning general strikes and protests in the coming days. “We shall neither surrender nor retreat.”

Unrest would only add to Nigeria’s security woes: President Goodluck Jonathan already declared a state of emergency over the weekend in parts of the country hit by a growing Islamic insurgency that is fueled in part by widespread poverty.

The fuel price increase is likely to result in even higher prices in the landlocked and violence-plagued north, as Nigeria’s refined oil is mainly imported through ports in the country’s south.

Previous attempts to tamper with the subsidy over more than two decades have been met with nationwide protests, compelling even heavy-handed military governments to reduce it instead.

GERMANY

President faces new trouble after report on private loan

BERLIN — A German newspaper said Monday that the country’s president complained to its editor about its plans to report on a private loan he received and threatened legal action, deepening an affair that has raised mounting questions about the head of state’s authority and judgment.

The mass-circulation Bild daily reported for the first time on Dec. 13 that President Christian Wulff received a $650,000 private loan from the wife of a wealthy businessman and friend, apparently at below market rates, in 2008. At the time, he was governor of Lower Saxony state.

Months before he became president in 2010, regional opposition lawmakers asked Mr. Wulff if he had business relations with longtime friend Egon Geerkens, a former jeweler and investor. He said he hadn’t, failing to mention the loan from Mr. Geerkens’ wife.

Critics have said Mr. Wulff needs to do more to explain the loan, and also have faulted his handling of the story. Following days of silence in which he communicated mostly through his attorneys, Mr. Wulff made a public statement Dec. 22 apologizing for not disclosing the loan in 2010.

SAUDI ARABIA

Law bans men from selling ladies’ underwear

RIYADH — Saudi authorities have decided to implement a law that bans men from working in women’s lingerie stores, beginning Thursday.

The 2006 law banning men from working in female apparel and cosmetic stores had never been put into effect, partly because hard-liners in the religious establishment oppose the whole idea of women working where men and women congregate together, such as shopping malls.

The Labor Ministry said Monday that more than 28,000 women already have applied for the sales jobs.

Saudi’s Arabia’s most senior cleric, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, spoke out against the decision in a recent sermon, saying it contradicts Islamic law.

He argued that wrongdoing may occur when a woman stands face to face with a man and sells without embarrassment.

The country follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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