NEW ZEALAND – Earthquake toll: 98 dead, 226 missing

CHRISTCHURCH | Rescuers fanned out into unchecked areas of New Zealand’s quake-devastated city Thursday looking for any remaining life in the rubble as the death toll rose to 98 with “grave fears” that many of the 226 missing are dead.

Police said up to 120 bodies may lie trapped in the tangled concrete and steel that was the Canterbury Television, or CTV, building, where dozens of students from Japan, Thailand, China and other Asian countries were believed buried when an English-language school collapsed along with other offices.

Twenty-three bodies were pulled from the building Thursday but not immediately identified.

Officials appealed to families of the missing to be patient, saying the agony could be worse if they rushed identifications and came to wrong conclusions.

CHINA – LinkedIn website disrupted in protest-wary China

BEIJING | Access to the networking site LinkedIn was disrupted in China on Thursday following online calls on other sites for gatherings inspired by protests against authoritarian regimes across the Middle East.

It was not immediately clear whether the blockage on domestic Chinese Internet lines of LinkedIn, one of the few foreign networking sites not previously blocked by Beijing, was because of state censorship.

The disruption, however, comes in the wake of a rash of detentions in China after an overseas Chinese-language website, Boxun, spread a call for “Jasmine Revolution” gatherings to press the Communist Party to make way for democratic change.

Attempted demonstrations in Beijing and elsewhere on Sunday were tiny and were extinguished swiftly by swarms of police.

A rash of detentions and censorship of online discussion of the Middle Eastern protests suggests Beijing remains nervous about any signs of opposition to one-party rule.

JAPAN – World’s first robot marathon kicks off

TOKYO | The world’s first robot marathon is under way in western Japan, with five two-legged participants racing on an indoor track.

The race kicked off Thursday with the 1-foot-tall, battery-charged robots competing around a 110-yard racetrack. They will have to cover 26 miles.

Japanese robot maker and event organizer Vstone Co. says the Robo Mara Full race in Osaka will demonstrate the machines’ durability and maneuverability.

Vstone robots took an early lead, while two entrants by Osaka University of Engineering teams got off to a shaky start. The race [was] expected to last through Sunday.

Vstone CEO Nobuo Yamato said he hopes the event will become international in the future.

CUBA – March 4 trial set for accused U.S. spy

HAVANA | Cuba on Thursday set a March 4 trial date for U.S. contractor Alan Gross, whose prolonged incarceration on charges of spying has become a major sticking point in efforts to normalize bilateral relations.

Mr. Gross, a 61-year-old State Department contractor, was arrested in December 2009 on suspicion that he was a U.S. spy who was distributing cell phones and laptops to opponents of President Raul Castro’s communist regime.

Cuba drew a furious response from the Obama administration when Havana announced this month that it would seek a 20-year prison term for Mr. Gross, who Washington says has been detained unjustly for 14 months.

The trial date was announced on the Cuban government’s official website.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley responded to the announcement in a Twitter message Thursday. “We hope he receives a fair trial and is allowed to come home. What he did is not a crime,” he said.

ISRAEL – Israeli PM warns Hamas to cease rocket attacks

JERUSALEM | Israel’s prime minister said Thursday his country would not tolerate rocket attacks against its citizens and warned the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers not to test his resolve.

Benjamin Netanyahu issued the threat a day after a Palestinian rocket struck the largest city in southern Israel for the first time since a bruising Israeli military offensive in Gaza two years ago.

Israel and Hamas have largely observed an unofficial cease-fire since then. But clashes sporadically flare up along the volatile border as Gaza militants fire rockets and mortars into Israel, drawing military reprisals.

In Wednesday night’s attack, a rocket exploded in Beersheba, 20 miles from Gaza, damaging property but causing no casualties.

Israel retaliated with airstrikes against Gaza, including one that wounded three Islamic Jihad militants.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at: (“World Scene” and “Briefly“) and on Feb. 24th and 25th.)


1. For each of the 5 countries, give the following information:  (Include special notations for all information on the Ivory Coast)
a) the continent on which it is located
b) the name of the capital city
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country: type of government, capital and executive branch (chief of state/head of government) can be found under the “Government” heading; population is listed under the “People” heading.  Go to for a list of continents.]

2. For New Zealand:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Approximately how many people died as a result of the earthquake? [Note: There were close to 500,000 people in the city when the earthquake struck.]

3. For China:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why is the Chinese government suspected of causing the disruption in LinkedIn service?

4. For Japan:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) How long will it take the robots to complete the 26 mile race?
c) What is the purpose of the robot race, according to Vstone?

5. For Cuba:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Read the information about Mr. Gross’ arrest under “Background” below the questions. Do you think the U.S. government should have done more over the past 14 months to secure Mr. Gross’ release?
c) What do you think of the Obama administration’s recent move to open travel to Cuba, by making it easier for American students and groups to visit the country, while one of our citizens is being held in a Cuban jail on false charges?
d) The news blurb reports that “Cuba drew a ‘furious response’ from the Obama administration” when they heard of his trial. Re-read State Department Philip Crowley’s response to the news. Why do you think the reporter described the Obama administration’s response as furious?

6. For Israel:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why did the Prime Minister issue this warning?



CHINA – About LinkedIn:

  • LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site.
  • Founded in December 2002 and launched in May 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking.
  • As of January 1, 2011, LinkedIn reports more than 90 million registered users, spanning more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
  • The site is available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. (from wikipedia)



  • Alan Gross, 61, from Maryland, was arrested in late 2009 in Cuba while working as a contractor for the U.S. government. He was distributing satellite communication equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. It was part of a secretive American democracy-promotion program that grew during the George W. Bush administration, under the auspices of the Agency for International Development [USAID].
  • Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, have suggested that Gross is a spy. U.S. diplomats have denied the accusation.
  • The White House on Friday said it remained “deeply concerned” about Gross, adding that Cuba’s latest decision “compounds the injustice suffered by a man helping to increase the free flow of information, to, from and among the Cuban people.”
  • In recent weeks, there had been some signs of warming. U.S. officials had traveled to the Communist-ruled island to discuss Gross’s case.  Last month, the Obama administration announced the broadest liberalization of travel to Cuba in a decade, making it easier for American students and groups to visit the country.
  • But the steep punishment being sought by Cuban prosecutors in the Gross case is likely to set relations back once again. U.S. officials had expected Gross would be accused of a crime but were hoping for a lesser charge.
  • Cuba officials have said that Gross, a subcontractor for Bethesda-based Development Alternatives, was clearly violating their laws when he tried to provide Jewish groups online access via satellite connections. Visitors who come to Cuba with satellite phones but no permit risk confiscation and arrest.
  • On Friday, Cuban prosecutors said they would charge Gross with “acts against the integrity and independence” of their country, and seek a 20-year sentence. (parts of this information are from a article)

CUBA:  Read more about Alan Gross’ arrest at a blog.


NEW ZEALAND:  Watch a news report on the earthquake below:

  Visit the Vstone Company website at

Watch a news report from mid-February on the marathon:

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