Iced in. A Chinese icebreaker named the Snow Dragon drew close today to rescuing a Russian ship that became trapped in thick Antarctic ice on Christmas Eve. The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard’s whipping winds pushed sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. The ship wasn’t in danger of sinking, and there were ample supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists, and crew on board, but the vessel couldn’t move. The Snow Dragon was hoping to reach the ship by Friday evening, but changing weather conditions and the thickness of the ice could slow its progress, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue.
Mixed signals. Iran is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, the country’s nuclear chief said in comments reported late Thursday. The nuclear agreement reached last month in Geneva prohibits Iran from bringing new centrifuges into operation for six months, but the deal does not stop it from developing centrifuges. With the announcement, Ali Akbar Salehi might have been trying to rebut criticism by Iranians who have denounced the deal as a surrender to Western pressure. Meanwhile, the top foreign adviser to Iran’s supreme leader has called for new direct talks with the United States and the five other nations involved in the negotiations. Experts from Iran and the six world powers are expected to hold a new round of talks Monday on implementing last month’s deal.
Middle East assassination. A powerful car bomb tore through a business district in the center of Beirut on Friday, killing a prominent pro-Western politician and at least five other people. The bomb targeted the car of Mohammed Chatah, a former finance minister and a senior aide to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, security officials said. Chatah, his driver, and four others were killed, the National News Agency said. The blast wounded more than 70 others and set cars ablaze, shredded trees, and shattered windows in a main street of the posh downtown area. Hariri, a Sunni politician, heads the main, Western-backed coalition in Lebanon, which is engaged in bitter feuding with the terrorist group Hezbollah, a top ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The bombing is certain to elevate sectarian tensions already soaring because of the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Dangerous waters. A school of piranhas attacked swimmers in an Argentine river, aptly named the Parana, on Christmas Day. Seventy people were injured, including seven children who lost parts of their fingers or toes. Thousands of bathers were cooling off in the river from 100-degree temperatures when they suddenly began complaining of bite marks on their hands and feet. Director of lifeguards Federico Cornier blamed the attack on palometas, “a type of piranha, big, voracious and with sharp teeth that can really bite.” A paramedic told the Todo Noticias channel that city beaches were closed, but it was so hot that within a half-hour many people went back to the water.