Runaway oil rig — One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer. The condition of the rig, the Kulluk, which broke free from a tow ship in stormy seas and ran aground Monday night, was unknown late Tuesday. The Coast Guard was leading an effort to stabilize the vessel, 266 feet in diameter, to prevent further damage and keep its more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants from spilling onto the rocky shoreline.
Ivory Coast stampede — A crowd stampeded after leaving a New Year’s fireworks show early Tuesday in Ivory Coast’s main city, killing 61 people — many of them children and teenagers — and injuring more than 200, rescue workers said. Thousands had gathered at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan’s Plateau district to see the fireworks. It was only the second New Year’s Eve fireworks display since peace returned to this West African nation after a bloody upheaval over presidential elections put the nation on the brink of civil war and turned this city into a battle zone. The cause of the stampede was unknown.
Syria clashes — Clashes between government troops and rebels on Tuesday forced the international airport in Aleppo to stop all flights in and out of Syria’s largest city, while fierce battles also raged in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus. The rebels have been making inroads in the civil war recently, capturing a string of military bases and posing a stiff challenge to the regime in Syria’s two major cities — Damascus and Aleppo. The opposition trying to overthrow authoritarian President Bashar Assad has been fighting for control of Aleppo since the summer, and it has captured large swathes of territory in Aleppo province west and north of the city up to the Turkish border.
Egyptian comedian in trouble — Egyptian prosecutors launched an investigation on Tuesday against a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting the president in the latest case raised by Islamist lawyers against outspoken media personalities. Lawyer Ramadan Abdel-Hamid al-Oqsori charged that TV host Bassem Youssef insulted President Mohammed Morsi by putting the Islamist leader’s image on a pillow and parodying his speeches. The case against Youssef comes as opposition media and independent journalists are growing increasingly worried about press freedoms under a new constitution widely supported by Morsi and his Islamist allies.
North Korean overture — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday called for an end to the “confrontation" with rival South Korea in what appeared to be an overture to the incoming South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, as she was cobbling together South Korea’s new policy on the North. North Korea issued a major policy statement on New Year’s Day, following a tradition set by Kim’s grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, and continued by his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December 2011.
Penn State sanctions — Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday he plans to sue the NCAA in federal court over stiff sanctions imposed against Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. The Republican governor of Pennsylvania scheduled a news conference today on the Penn State campus to announce the filing in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg.
India welfare — India will pay billions of dollars in social welfare money directly to its poor under a new program that aims to cut out the middlemen blamed for the massive fraud that plagues the system. Previously officials only handed out cash to the poor after taking a cut — if they didn’t keep all of it for themselves — and were known to enroll fake recipients or register unqualified people. The program inaugurated Tuesday would see welfare money directly deposited into recipients’ bank accounts and require them to prove their identity with biometric data, such as fingerprints or retina scans.
Chicago homicide jump — Chicago ended the year with 506 homicides, according to an unofficial tally released Tuesday, making 2012 the first year the city has had more than 500 homicides in four years, and marking an increase of more than 16 percent over last year’s total. Crime experts caution not to read too much into year-to-year increases in homicides, especially since 2011’s and 2010’s 435 homicides were the lowest the city had seen in more than 40 years. But Chicago’s tally in 2012 was the highest since 2008 and the second highest since 2003.
Oscar vote deadline — Growing concern that problems with the new electronic Oscar voting system could lead to record-low turnout has prompted the motion picture academy to extend the deadline for members to vote for Oscar nominations. But with next week’s highly anticipated announcements looming, the extension is only for a day, until Friday. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Monday that any votes received after the new deadline will not be counted.
Clashes in West Bank — An arrest raid by undercover Israeli soldiers disguised as vegetable vendors ignited rare clashes in the northern West Bank on Tuesday, residents said, leaving at 10 Palestinians wounded. Israeli army raids into Palestinian areas to seize activists and militants are fairly common. The raids are normally coordinated with Palestinian security forces, and suspects are usually apprehended without violence.
Venezuela on edge — Supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez alike nervously welcomed the new year Tuesday, left on edge by shifting signals from the government about the Venezuelan leader’s health three weeks after cancer surgery in Cuba. Chavez has not been seen or heard from since the Dec. 11 operation, and officials have reported a series of ups and downs in his recovery — the most recent, late Sunday, announcing that a respiratory infection had put the president in a “delicate" state.
Apple Store robbery — Armed robbers on New Year’s Eve got away with what initial reports said was some $1.3 million of products from an Apple Inc. store in Paris. The robbery, carried out by four or five armed and masked individuals, occurred in the late evening, about three hours after the store had closed, the reports say.
Hef gets hitched — Hugh Hefner’s celebrating the new year as a married man once again. The 86-year-old Playboy magazine founder exchanged vows with his “runaway bride," Crystal Harris, at a private Playboy Mansion ceremony on New Year’s Eve. Harris, a 26-year-old “Playmate of the Month" in 2009, broke off a previous engagement to Hefner just before they were to be married in 2011.
French cars burn — A New Year’s Eve tradition for some in France of torching empty, parked cars has continued. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday that 1,193 vehicles were burned overnight around the country, where the stunt began in the 1990s. There was no way to compare this figure to recent ones because the conservative government of former President Nicolas Sarkozy stopped making the numbers public while he was in office.
Illinois pensions — As Illinois lawmakers head back to work this week, Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to use the practical advantages of a lame duck legislative calendar to fix the state’s pension systems — the most underfinanced in the nation — in a matter of days. Over the years, leaders here have fretted over the shortfall even as they watched it grow and grow, now reaching, by some estimates, $96 billion. Quinn, a Democrat, has come to describe the situation as the state’s “rendezvous with reality" and Illinois’ own “fiscal cliff."
— From wire reports