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Christmas 1914: The day even WWI showed humanity
20 December 2014 - With British and German forces separated only by a no-man's land littered with fallen comrades, sounds of a German Christmas carol suddenly drifted across the frigid air: 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht' ('Silent Night, Holy Night'). Then, during that first Christmas Day in World War I, something magical happened. Soldiers who had been killing each other by the tens of thousands for months climbed out of their soggy, muddy trenches to seek a shred of humanity amid the horrors of war. Hands reached out across the narrow divide, presents were exchanged, and in Flanders Fields a century ago, a spontaneous Christmas truce briefly lifted the human spirit. (more)

UK: Community shop opens to sell surplus food from supermarkets to poor
20 December 2014 - Britain's first 'community supermarket' opened for business allowing hundreds of struggling families to buy surplus food donated by shops including Marks and Spencer and Ocado at 70 per cent discount -- with 20 more planned across the country. The Community Shop will sell low-cost, high-quality surplus food to residents on income support while helping them back into work. (more)

'Black Friday' spree lifts UK retail sales growth to 27-year high - CBI
20 December 2014 - A 'Black Friday' shopping frenzy pushed British retail sales growth to a 27-year high in December, according to an industry survey on Friday. The Confederation of British Industry's distributive trades survey's retail sales balance soared to 61 in December, the highest reading since January 1988, and a marked rise from November's 27. (more)

Canada drops 'principled' opposition to Cuba at Americas summit
20 December 2014 - Canada is shelving its objections to Cuba's participation in a summit of leaders from across the Americas in April, a shift from the 'principled' position Prime Minister Stephen Harper staked out three years ago. Even before the US and Cuba announced the re-establishment of diplomatic ties Wednesday after 50 years of hostilities, American officials had indicated they were onside. (more)

Canada: 'Santa cop' hands out $100 bills instead of tickets to needy
20 December 2014 - Over the last two days, an anonymous Montreal police officer pulled over drivers, not to slap them with a ticket but to give them a $50 or $100 bill. The policeman received $5,000 from a wealthy friend and was instructed to hand out the money to people in need. The secret benefactor was inspired by a similar initiative by the Kansas City police, who gave away $100,000 instead of traffic tickets. 'I looked for vehicles that were beaten up, those that had burnt-out lights, older cars. I'd intercept them for an infraction and then give them a present instead of a ticket,' said the officer. After finding it too hard to determine who was really in need only by the look of their car, the officer distributed the rest of the money to homeless people or shelters. (more)

Toronto Stock Exchange posts biggest weekly gain in 3 years
20 December 2014 - Canada's main stock index rose for a fourth straight session and posted its biggest weekly gain in three years on Friday. Stock markets in North America have enjoyed a string of big gains in the last full week of trading in 2014 as the TSX advanced 736 points or 5.36 per cent while the Dow Jones industrials jumped 524 points or three per cent. (more)

UK: Student raises thousands of pounds for homeless man who offered her money
20 December 2014 - An art student living in Preston has raised over 21,000 GBP (British Pound) for a homeless man, after she says he offered her his last 3 GBP so that she could get a taxi home safely. Dominique Harrison-Bentzen says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help. She declined the offer, but was so moved by his gesture that she started a campaign to raise enough money to help him get a place to live. The campaign has received global attention, going viral on social media. (more)

'Black Friday' discounts lift UK retail sales growth to 10-year high
19 December 2014 - British retail sales surged at their fastest annual rate in more than a decade last month, as US-style 'Black Friday' discounts drove record sales growth at electrical and department stores. The Office for National Statistics said the volume of goods bought at British stores last month jumped by 6.4 per cent from November 2013. That was the biggest rise since May 2004. UK consumer spending has been robust throughout 2014, and many economists expect it to continue to support rapid economic growth next year. (more)

Rwanda turns to small solar units to expand power access
19 December 2014 - Rwanda is expanding the use of small solar units for remote households and schools to help meet a government target of increasing access to electricity to 70 per cent of the nation by 2018 from just 22 per cent now, officials said. Poor access to power in the African nation has held back the growth needed to haul more people out of poverty but expanding power plants cannot always solve the problem when the grid has a limited reach. Other African nations are also seeking to exploit their solar potential. (more)

US: Songbirds fly coop long before tornadoes arrive in Tennessee
19 December 2014 - Scientists said on Thursday that little songbirds known as golden-winged warblers fled their nesting grounds in Tennessee up to two days before the arrival of a fierce storm system that unleashed 84 tornadoes in southern US states in April. The researchers said the birds were apparently alerted to the danger by sounds at frequencies below the range of human hearing. Local weather conditions were normal when the birds took flight from their breeding ground in eastern Tennessee, with no significant changes in factors like barometric pressure, temperature, or wind speeds. The storm, already spawning tornadoes, was still hundreds of miles away. (more)

Angola Jan-Sept diamond sales rise to $960 mln
19 December 2014 - Angola, the world's fourth largest diamond producer by value, exported around $960 million of the gems between January and September, up from around $860 million in the same period a year ago. Diamonds are Angola's second biggest export earner. (more)

Mozambique economy grew 7.5 pct in 2014 - cenbank
19 December 2014 - Mozambique's economy grew 7.5 per cent this year, a slight increase on the previous year, the central bank said on Wednesday. The gas-rich southern African economy grew 7 per cent last year, according to the African Development Bank. (more)

US: Broken treetop hanging on wire gets holiday decor
19 December 2014 - Some Washington state residents are getting in the holiday spirit by decorating a Douglas fir that toppled onto an unused utility line in a recent windstorm and looks like an upside-down Christmas tree. The Peninsula Daily News reports that local residents decked out the tree with garlands, ribbons, ornaments, and a sign to Santa. (more)

Belgrade: Resilient capital finds new energy to rebuild once again
18 December 2014 - In the heart of Belgrade, the vibrant and resilient capital of Serbia, a slow and colourful transformation is taking place. Once ugly and industrial, the historic neighbourhood of Savamala is now blossoming back to life. Belgrade has been destroyed and rebuilt around 40 times. Today Belgrade is stepping up its efforts to rebuild once again. (more)

Five signs America is falling in love with public transit
18 December 2014 - After decades of embracing car culture, experts report growing movement out of the driver's seat and into transit stations. Ridership aboard US public transportation in 2014 is expected to top last year's figures. 2013 saw more riders on public transportation than any year since 1956, according to the American Public Transportation Association. (more)

Global population living six years longer than in 1990: study
18 December 2014 - Global life expectancy has risen by more than six years since 1990 thanks to falling death rates from cancer and heart disease in rich countries and better survival in poor countries. (more)

US jobless aid applications decline to 289,000
18 December 2014 - Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign of solid job security and growing confidence among employers. Hiring is accelerating. In the first 11 months of this year, employers have added 2.65 million jobs. That already makes 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999. Employers added 321,000 jobs in November, the most in nearly three years. (more)

President Obama: US re-establishing relations with Cuba
17 December 2014 - President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday and declared an end to America's 'outdated approach' to the communist island in a historic shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity. 'These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,' President Obama said in remarks from the White House. 'It's time for a new approach.' (more)

US, Cuba plan restored relations after 50 years of hostility
17 December 2014 - The United States plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba more than 50 years after they were severed, a major policy shift after decades of hostile ties with the communist-ruled island, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday. Announcing the end of what he called a 'rigid' policy of isolation of Cuba that had been ineffective, President Obama said the United States planned to move toward normal ties and would open an embassy in Cuba. (more)

US: New York will move to prohibit fracking
17 December 2014 - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will move to prevent fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique. Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said Wednesday that he was recommending a ban, and Cuomo said he would defer to Martens and Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in making the decision. Zucker and Martens on Wednesday summarized the findings of environmental and health reviews that concluded that shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing carried unacceptable risks that haven't been sufficiently studied. (more)

Asian business sentiment rebounds in fourth quarter with India most optimistic
17 December 2014 - Business sentiment among Asia's top companies rebounded in the fourth quarter to the second-highest level in almost three years, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey showed, helped by a stronger US economy and a plunge in oil prices. Indian businesses provided the biggest boost to the index, with companies reporting a maximum score of 100 for the third consecutive quarter. (more)

Thomson Reuters/INSEAD fourth-quarter Asian Business Sentiment Survey - by economy
17 December 2014 - Business sentiment among Asia's top companies rose in the fourth quarter with Indian firms, buoyed by hopes Prime Minister Narendra Modi would live up to his market-friendly reputation, showing the most positive outlook for a third straight quarter. Confidence among companies in Australia was second only to India. Sentiment in China was unchanged, South Korea rebounded strongly, and the outlook index of Taiwanese corporations turned positive in the fourth quarter, jumping from 33 to 71. (more)

Thomson Reuters/INSEAD fourth-quarter Asian Business Sentiment Survey - by sector
17 December 2014 - Business sentiment among Asia's top companies rose in the fourth quarter with builders switching to most optimistic from least just three months earlier due in part to increased new orders, while property developers also showed a rise in sentiment. Sentiment among retailers hit its highest since the survey began in 2009, food firms were their most bullish since early 2013 with most showing higher orders and sales, and sentiment among automakers held steady at a three-year high. Financials outlook steadied. (more)

Canada hosted secret meetings between Cuba and US
17 December 2014 - Canada hosted about seven meetings between the US and Cuba that helped lead to President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday that the two countries will establish full diplomatic relations, a senior Canadian government official said. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada did not play a role in the discussions themselves. Senior US officials said Canada was 'indispensable' in hosting the majority of the secret talks, and Obama thanked Canada earlier Wednesday. (more)

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