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The News Matrix: Saturday 18 August 2012

New clampdown on unfair trading

Companies will be prevented from using premium rate phone numbers, charging excessive fees for credit card payments and automatically including fees for extra services under proposals to be announced by the Government to help both consumers and fair traders.

French envoy condemns Assad

The French Foreign Minister levelled a scathing tirade at the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday after meeting refugees in Turkey, calling for his regime to be "smashed fast". Laurent Fabius accused Assad of trying to carry out the "destruction of an entire people".

Rents hit new high at £725 per month

Rents soared to a new high last month, with "fierce competition" from frustrated would-be home buyers continuing, a study found. The typical rent in England and Wales rose by 1 per cent to £725 in July, surpassing a previous high of £720 per month recorded last October.

£3.8m of drugs on pickled onion lorry

An Essex lorry driver was jailed for 12 years for smuggling £3.8m of heroin, cocaine and ecstasy into the country via Dover. Charlie Tomlinson, 31, was arrested at Eastern Docks after UK Border Agency officers found drugs in his trailer, which was loaded with pickled onions.

Diplomatic war of words goes on

Britain and Ecuador vied to gain international support over the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after the South American country announced it was to offer him asylum. Ecuadorian officials encouraged condemnation of the UK's threat to enter its embassy. MORE

Zuma orders inquiry into mine shootings

Wives searched for missing loved ones as President Jacob Zuma rushed home from a summit after police announced a shocking casualty toll from the previous day's shooting of striking miners: 34 dead. Wives of miners demanded to know why police had opened fire. MORE

Target is set for GB Paralympic medals

Britain's Paralympians hope to finish second in the medal table at the London Games, repeating their feat in Beijing four years ago, when they came second only to China. UK Sport said this year's goal was to win 103 medals and "close the gap" on the Chinese. MORE

Sudanese migrants deported to South

Israel has been accused of sending Sudanese immigrants to South Sudan, the breakaway state involved in a sporadic border conflict with their home nation, by giving them false documents. Israel has a deportation agreement with the South but not the northern republic. MORE

Romney rejects tax returns request

President Barack Obama's re-election campaign said yesterday that if Mitt Romney releases five years of his tax returns it would not press the Republican presidential challenger to release more. The proposal was quickly rejected by Mr Romney's campaign. MORE

Andy Coulson at Lords prior to trial

Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former spin doctor, who is awaiting trial on phone-hacking charges, was at Lords yesterday to watch England in the Third Test. The former News of the World editor is charged with conspiring to access the phone messages of Milly Dowler, and others.

Heatwave prompts health warnings

Authorities are fighting wildfires, keeping an eye on isolated elderly populations and advising people to drink fluids as temperatures soar in France. Heatwave warnings were issued for a swathe of central and southern France, from Burgundy to the Pyrenees.

Icebreaker signals China's intent

An icebreaker has become the first ship from China to cross the Arctic Ocean, underscoring Beijing's growing interest in a remote region where a record thaw caused by climate change may open new trade routes. The voyage highlights how China is extending its reach to a region rich in oil and gas.

Most 'healthy' cereal bars high in sugar

The image of cereal bars as a healthy snack is a "myth", according to a study that found many contain high levels of fat and sugar. All but one of the 30 bars in the study were high in sugar, with 16 containing levels above 30 per cent, the consumer group Which? found.

eBay casts out spells and psychic services

eBay is to ban sales of magic spells, potions and curses in an effort to increase trust in online auctions. The website said sales of "magic services, prayers, blessings, psychic, tarot, reiki and other metaphysical readings and services" will also be banned from 30 August.

Guantanamo inmate reported to have cat

A prisoner at Guantanamo Bay is said to have acquired a cat at the Cuban facility, a fellow prisoner says in a letter released yesterday. The letter from Rahim al-Afghani has one intriguing bit of information: "Majid Khan has a cat," he writes to his lawyer, Carlos Warner.

Prog rock gets its own prize ceremony

Prog rock is known for being long on solos but short on credibility. Titans of the genre are to be honoured in the first Progressive Music Awards. Genesis will be there but one unexpected entry on the awards shortlist – Radiohead – have yet to confirm their attendance. MORE

Obama regains some Klout – and his pride

Until recently, Justin Bieber was more influential than Barack Obama – at least in the world of Klout, a website that claims to measure people's online influence using an algorithm. But after new calculations, to better reflect the real world, Mr Obama is ahead.

Sun much rounder than expected

Scientists have declared they are baffled by the shape of the Sun - it is too perfectly round. New measurements show that scaled down to the size of a beach ball, the difference between the Sun's widest and narrowest diameters would be less than the width of a human hair, making it one of the roundest objects ever measured, and far rounder than expected.

'Titanic' finally goes down a storm

Burmese film lovers have been able to see a Hollywood movie for the first time in 50 years, with hundreds queuing to see the 3D re-release of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic. It came after 20th Century Fox International signed a deal with a local distributor. MORE

Jeepers! Clinton trip causes car problems

Hosting the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the Pacific Islands Forum is posing problems for the government of the Cook Islands because it owns only three suitable cars and is scrambling to borrow vehicles from residents to create a proper motorcade. MORE

Ronan Keating: my book was boring

It's something many people thought at the time, and now the author himself has admitted it – Boyzone singer Ronan Keating's memoir was not very interesting. Keating would now advise his younger self to have waited rather than writing the 2001 autobiography when he was 24.

Nuisance 999 calls are on the increase

Emergency services say they are under increasing pressure from nuisance 999 calls. One woman called an ambulance after being bitten on the finger by a hamster. Another call saw a man requesting emergency help because he had a hangover.

Whip-round needed to get plane refuelled

The crew of an Air France plane re-routed via Damascus had to ask passengers to stump up cash after Syrian authorities refused credit card payment to refuel the aircraft. The plane was heading for Beirut but was diverted because of civil unrest in the Lebanese capital.

Youth uses cartoon ID card to buy booze

A teenager used a fake identity card with a photo of a cartoon character to buy alcohol during an undercover operation by trading standards. The fake ID featured a picture of Bobby King from King of the Hill and gave his age as 17. Six of 22 shops in Nottinghamshire served him.MORE

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