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Pope’s Jubilee year off to a sluggish start

Pope Francis's Jubilee Year of Mercy has got off to a sluggish start, to the disappointment of Rome's hoteliers, restaurateurs and souvenir sellers. Far from being flooded with pilgrims, as the Italian authorities had anticipated, the streets around St Peter's basilica have been eerily quiet over the end-of-year holiday season, following attacks in France in November. "There seems to be the same number of people about as this time last year," said one of the street traders in the Via della Conciliazione, who did not want to give his name. "But it is clear the crowds we were told to expect have not materialized." The view from the street is confirmed by official figures from the Vatican, which revealed earlier this week that the number of people attending papal audiences were 30 percent down …

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North Korean leader talks war but doesn’t comment on nukes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in an annual New Year's speech that he was ready for war if provoked by "invasive" outsiders, but stayed away from past threats centering on the country's nuclear weapons and long-range missile ambitions. Kim's comments, which were broadcast by North Korea's state TV, largely stuck to the well-worn propaganda meant to glorify him and his leadership for the residents of one of the world's poorest, most closed countries. But his words will still be pored over by analysts for hints about the country's intentions for the coming year. There is little public information about the inner workings and policy goals of North Korea's government, which considers democratic South Korea and its ally the United States its enemies, and is pursuing a long-range missile that could …

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‘One hour, then that’s it’: Dubai fire survivor hangs from balcony

Grasping the edge of a balcony 48 stories from the ground, just meters away from a raging fire, the photographer thought he may not live to see 2016. "One hour, then that's it, I'm dead," he thought as he stood on the tiny sill of a balcony in Dubai's luxury The Address Downtown hotel, attached by a rope to a massive window-cleaning platform. Not long before, he had entered the balcony with a friend to take photographs of the nearby New Year's Eve fireworks display for his newspaper. But the night suddenly changed when a huge fire erupted in the hotel below them, engulfing several floors of the huge building in the heart of the skyscraper city. "There's a fire," his friend shouted, rushing towards the nearest exit, before the photographer looked out and …

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Weird weather brings warm welcome to 2016

With temperatures above freezing at the North Pole, deadly tornadoes in Texas, extreme heat in Australia and floods in Britain and Missouri, the world is beset by extreme weather events as it welcomes 2016. A powerful and destructive low-pressure system in the North Atlantic has pushed the mercury up to two degrees Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit) at the pole, 20 degrees above the seasonal norm. The Arctic has borne the brunt of global warming, with temperatures three degrees higher than the pre-industrial era. But linking the current mild conditions to climate change is premature, warned Natalie Hasell, meteorologist at the Canadian Department of the Environment, saying that scientists do not base their conclusions "on one anomaly". The North Atlantic depression also brought eastern Canada an unusually warm holiday period, with temperatures hitting 15.9 degrees Celsius …

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World welcomes New Year despite terror fears

The world greeted 2016 with Champagne and cheers, but tightened security put a damper on the party in Europe and a huge fire at a hotel in Dubai scared gathering revellers. Fireworks were cancelled in Brussels and Paris as November's terror attacks cast a pall, but Dubai put on a spectacular show as it refused to let the hotel blaze, which injured 16 people, disrupt celebrations. Sydney, traditionally the first to host a major New Year's bash, kicked off the global festivities when it lit up the skies with pyrotechnics at the stroke of midnight (1300 GMT). In Dubai, a huge fire ripped through a luxury 63-storey hotel, the Address Downtown, close to the world's tallest tower where people had gathered to ring in the New Year. Despite the dramatic scenes from the inferno, …

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Jittery world bids adieu to a year marred by terror

The world yesterday bid a weary and wary adieu to a year marred by attacks that left nations reeling and nerves rattled. In Bangkok, police-flanked partygoers rang in the new year at the site of a deadly bombing that took place just months ago. In Paris, residents recovering from their city's own deadly attacks enjoyed scaled-back celebrations. And in Belgium's capital, authorities, anxious after thwarting what they say was a holiday terror plot, canceled festivities altogether. Still, most places forged ahead with their celebrations as many refused to let jitters ruin the joy of the holiday."We still have this fear but we need to continue to live," said Parisian Myriam Oukik. "We will celebrate." AUSTRALIA In Australia, officials, struggling to contain the threat from home-grown extremists, encouraged revelers to enjoy the evening and assured …

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