Questions over ancient text claiming Jesus was married

A US professor has caused a sensation in Rome where she spoke about an ancient papyrus fragment that refers to the “wife” of Jesus, but the theory that Christ could have been married is seen with great scepticism in the Vatican and by historians.

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Professor Karen King, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, spoke about the existence of an ancient Coptic Christian scroll from the fourth century measuring 3.8 centimetres by 7.6 centimetres which contains the words: “Jesus said to them, my wife.”

During a congress on Coptic studies she put forward the theory that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.

She added that this “doesn’t prove that Jesus was married” but hinted that the question was being raised at the time, even though Christian tradition assumed as a fact that Jesus was not married.

“From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’ death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions,” she added.

The professor also cautioned that the authenticity of the document still had to be verified with tests on the ink.

Contacted by AFP, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi refused to call into question King’s competence as a historian but said that “we do not really know where this little scrap of parchment came from.”

“This does not change anything in the position of the Church which rests on an enormous tradition, which is very clear and unanimous” that Jesus Christ was not married, he said.

“This changes nothing in the portrayal of Christ and the gospels. This is not an event that has any influence on Catholic doctrine,” he said.

A professor at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris, Jacques-Noel Peres, pointed out the text was from a relatively late period.

“I have never read texts from any preceding period which spoke about the veracity of Jesus being married,” Peres said.

The professor added that in the language of the time “wife does not necessarily mean spouse.”

He quoted the famous phrase from the Bible in which Jesus spoke to his mother at the marriage at Cana saying: “Woman, why turn to me?” underlining that the reference could come from this passage.

Some historians said the script could come from gnosticism — a doctrine that was popular in the second century — which was very marginal and in disagreement with the Church and whose texts were exaggerated.

The editor of the Vatican’s official daily Osservatore Romano, Professor Giovanni Maria Vian, a specialist in the history of the early Church, said he doubted the authenticity of the fragment which could be a fake sold as a genuine article to get a higher price since “the theme raises popular interest.”

“There is a business in fakes in the Middle East,” Vian said, adding that in the United States there had been “an attempt to create a buzz around this case.”

Citing expert observations, he said that the writing on the papyrus is “personal writing” whereas a Codex would have been written in a “very rigid” way resembling a printed text.

“Church tradition has no mention of a wife of Jesus. All the historical indications are that Jesus was unmarried. It is clearly said that Saint Peter was married. So why hide this for Jesus?” Vian said.

Vian said that if the text were indeed from that period it could be a fragment from an apocryphal gospel inspired by gnosticism translated into the Coptic language.

The apocryphal gospels, which were presented as coming from the entourage of Jesus Christ, flourished in the early centuries of Christianity.

Swallow ruptures achilles in big ‘Roos win

Injured North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow is facing at least nine months on the sidelines after his AFL side battered Melbourne with ridiculous ease at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

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Swallow ruptured his achilles tendon during his side’s 122-point win and will have surgery to repair it on Sunday, the club confirmed on Saturday night.

The North skipper faces nine to 12 months out of action, and a return several games into the 2014 season would be a best-case scenario for the tricky injury.

“It’s very rare that the medical staff are so certain about an injury – they’re confident it’s a ruptured achilles tendon,” Kangaroos coach Brad Scott said before scans confirmed the worst.

“You’re looking at anything around the 12-month mark for that sort of injury.”

Swallow hobbled off early in the third term with his team already on the way to a comfortable 22.18 (150) to 4.4 (28) victory and the awful Dees to their 15th defeat in 17 matches this year.

North’s Ryan Bastinac and Aaron Black booted four goals each, onballers Brent Harvey and Ben Cunnington combined for 70 possessions between them, while ruckman Todd Goldstein was also outstanding.

After several competitive weeks and a win under interim coach Neil Craig, the Demons took a marked step backwards with a dire performance.

The Demons kicked the opening goal of the match, then proceeded to trek inside the opposition 50-metre arc just once more for the quarter.

North increased their lead to 25 points by halftime, before they flattened the pedal in the third – booting eight goals to one for a 68-point three-quarter-time advantage.

The Dees were held scoreless entirely in the final term.

North piled on 16 goals to one for the second half.

It was Melbourne’s 10th defeat this season by more than 10 goals.

Craig admitted the loss was a huge step backwards for the Demons, who seemed to be improving under his tutelage since he took over from sacked Mark Neeld.

“We came to play rather than to perform,” was Craig’s assessment.

“We’ve been pretty good in the last few weeks in terms of our competitive nature. Today we weren’t anywhere near it.

“It was a bad day for our club.”

North now have a 7-10 win-loss record.

Google threatens to drop links to French media

A letter sent by Google to several French ministerial offices this month said it “cannot accept” such a move and the company “as a consequence would be required to no longer reference French sites,” according to a copy obtained by AFP.

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France’s new Socialist government, which is open to helping struggling media companies, warned Google that it should not threaten democratic governments.

Google said a law which would require it to make payments to media sites for displaying links to their content, would “threaten (Google’s) very existence”.

It also noted that Google “redirects four billion ‘clicks’ per month towards the Internet pages” of French media.

Media have had difficulty benefitting from the Google traffic, however, as online readers resist paying for access when so much content is free on the Internet.

Newspapers around the world have seen their bottom lines come under pressure as their print advertising revenues slide as more people read news online.

Google takes in tens of billions of dollars annually as companies seek to advertise their wares as Internet users search for content.

Leading French newspaper publishers last month called on the government to adopt a law imposing a settlement in the long-running dispute with Google, forcing it and other search engines to share some of the advertising revenue from user searches for news contained on media websites.

Their demand follows the German government approving in August draft legislation that would force search engines to pay commissions to German media websites.

Google France has said that it believes such laws “would be harmful to the Internet, Internet users and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic” sent to them by Google’s search engine.

The French government has been receptive to the plea of newspaper publishers.

French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti told a parliamentary commission this week that she was in favour of the idea, calling it “a tool that it seems important to me to develop”.

She said she was surprised by the tone of Google’s letter.

“You don’t deal with a democratically-elected government with threats,” Filippetti told AFP on Thursday.

A media association also criticised Google’s attitude, calling it a “complete refusal by the dominant actor on the market … of all dialogue.”

The IPG association of newspapers and magazines said the objective of discussions should be finding an acceptable compromise that would recognise the value they bring to search engines and would help the further development of both of them.

French lawmakers last year ultimately rejected plans for a tax on online advertising revenues, fearing the project would hurt small local companies more than global Internet giants like Google, Facebook or Twitter.

Google France representatives are to meet Friday with officials from the finance ministry to discuss the project and this week’s statement from European data protection agencies saying Google’s new privacy policy does not comply with EU laws.

Google rolled out the new privacy policy in March, allowing it to track users across various services to develop targeted advertising, despite sharp criticism from US and European consumer advocacy groups.

The EU agencies told Google it had a few months to fix the policy or face legal action.

EU competition authorities also have an ongoing anti-trust probe into whether the Internet search giant had abused its dominant market position.

Google made several proposals in July to address concerns about preferential treatment in its search results, doubts over Google’s full respect of copyrights; and restrictive measures in advertising.

The EU competition authorities have yet to say if they are satisfied with the remedies Google has proposed.

If not, it could choose to issue a formal statement of objections.

Fines eventually imposed under this type of probe could reach up to 10 percent of a company’s sales — meaning record EU penalties.

Will Sarah Palin be McCain’s lasting legacy?

Palin, of course, was airlifted in to McCain’s campaign from a small Alaskan town called Wasilla, of which she’d been mayor before being elected Governor of Alaska.

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McCain’s floundering 2008 Presidential campaign required a bump as he chased Obama’s dynamism.

Palin delivered as his Vice-Presidential choice: pretty much unknown outside Alaska, young(ish), attractive, and a straight-talker.

Uh, hold that thought and watch this video

No matter, Palin was the textbook sidekick to McCain’s slow-boat, old man, stylings.

Except, of course, her policies, lack of worldview, and plain old lack of smarts (and perhaps little appreciation of beat poetry) saw her and McCain rejected by the American electorate.

Still, McCain had unleashed the beast.

Now, Palin roams America, after quitting her Governorship mid-term to chase book deals and a lucrative speaking circuit, to somehow become a star for the anti-Obamas.

So, thank you John McCain, for introducing us to Sarah Palin, a point that may become his political legacy.

McCain had spent years spinning himself as Mr Reasonable, a Republican-with-a-conscience, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had been a prisoner of war.

Representing Arizona, he positioned himself as progressive on immigration, gay rights, and climate change while being tough on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

He could have been President – twice.

In 2000, he crushed George W. Bush in an important primary in New Hampshire before being steam-rolled later in the campaign.

McCain, remember, was a “maverick”, a guy who would not run with the pack.

That’s possibly because McCain, now running for re-election for his Arizona senate seat, has probably always been about McCain rather than any genuine ideology.

More recently, McCain has flipped on immigration, backing a fence on the Mexican border and, somewhat embarrassingly, sought endorsement from Palin to boost his vote.

And an attempt to boost his vote was just why he picked Palin.

Vanity Fair magazine has considered an alternative universe had McCain and Palin won in 2008.

The US – and the world – would be a very different place.

In summary:

– There would probably be no stimulus bill; the country’s economic condition would be no better (and possibly worse).

* General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to go bankrupt.

* There would have been no significant new regulation of the financial industry.

* The Bush tax cuts for high incomes—something McCain had opposed before reversing himself—would have been extended.

* There would have been only modest health-insurance reform, at best.

* There would be no troop drawdown in Iraq.

* The United States might well have bombed or blockaded Iran in response to that country’s flawed election last year, or in response to its nuclear program.

* Finally, there would have been serial feuds between aides to the president and vice president, and Palin’s family would still be a soap opera.

Back in the real world, McCain was challenged by Republicans as the Arizona senate candidate for the upcoming mid-terms.

He’s now seen as yesterday’s man, insulting to someone who gave so much both as an air force pilot and a senator.

As Vanity Fair further revealed, according to a White House aide: “You can tell he can barely fucking stand the fact that he was beaten by Barack Obama.”

McCain? His legacy now may be creating Palin.

Rio slum ‘cleaned-up’ for World Cup

Even though Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup and Summer Olympics are two and four years away, it is apparently already “clean-up” time for at least one Rio de Janeiro slum, Folha De S.

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Paulo reports.

Still several years ahead of hosting the World Cup and Summer Olympics, the “clean up” of this city’s slums has apparently already begun. The Brazilian goverment launched a three-day military operation in the Santo Amaro favela of Rio de Janeiro to remove crack users, driving out of the area more than 400 non-residents between last Friday and Monday.

The Santo Amaro slum is considered the largest drug distributor for the wealthy of the Rio South Area. The government announced that Santo Amaro will be occupied by the National Public Security Force for an undetermined amount of time.

Still, many local residents doubt all the attention will last after 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. “I think this is nothing more than a make-over,” says one resident, who preferred to remain anonymous. “The government can’t keep this up for a long period.” Another added: “As soon as the big events finish, everything will return to how it was.”

The atmosphere during the round-up was tranquil. According to police officers, there was no hostility coming from the residents, who seem to have no problem with the operation. “The problem is going to be down the hill,” says sergent Mata, referring to the wealthier areas below. “As these users can no longer stay here, they will try to occupy the streets.” In Rio, slums are located over hills distributed along the city.

Psychologist Maura Cristina, a coordinator for the Facing Crack Project, told Folha that the goal is to take users off of the streets, and bring them to shelters maintained by the Special Protection Division. In total, Rio has 2,741 places among private and public shelters.

“We can’t force adults to stay at these places, but those under 18 are going to stay in compulsory shelters,” she says.

Profile: Who is Charles Taylor?

In a historic precedent, former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone.

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The verdict was passed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands.

Taylor was born in 1948 in Liberia and he started his political career as a student activist in university in the United States, heading the Union of Liberian Associations where he protested against then Liberian president William Tolbert.

He was convinced by Tolbert in 1980 to return to Liberia and serve in his government. Soon after Tolbert was murdered in a military coup led by army sergeant Samuel K. Doe, Taylor stayed on but was eventually ousted after accusations of embezzlement.

He then spent several years in exile back in the US and a stint in Libya where it is alleged that he received military training under Muammar Gaddafi.

In 1989, he launched his military rebellion for the presidency leading the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) who later became instrumental in causing a long-lasting and gruesome civil war leading to the death of nearly 300,000 lives.

Crossing the border in neighbouring Sierra Leone in 1991, Taylor financially aided the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) comprised of disgruntled Sierra Leonean fighters and Liberian nationals and the NPFL unleashing a civil war marked by notorious cases of limbs being slashed, disappearances, targeted rapes, child soldiers and arms smuggling.

Taylor, 64, was only elected to become Liberia’s president amongst corrupt conditions in 1997 and fled again in 2003 this time to Nigeria after an arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court’s Sierra Leone tribunal.

Captured in early 2006, the war crimes trial in The Hague has been eventful, with the appearance of celebrities such as British supermodel Naomi Campbell and American actress Mia Farrow, who were linked to ‘conflict diamonds’ which Taylor allegdely traded for weapons to support the RUF rebels.

The ruling in The Hague is historic as this is the first time a head of state has been convicted since the Nuremberg trials in 1945. Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is also facing trial at The Hague.

Australian Twitter News Index: Riots, Marriage, Bestiality

By Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

The last couple of weeks of our Australian Twitter News Index have been somewhat underwhelming: overall levels of news sharing on Twitter have been comparatively low, even in spite of a small blip at the tail end of week 37 which was caused by the reporting and commentary which covered the Sydney riots around the Innocence of Muslims film.

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In terms of total activity, week 38 picks up a little, but still fails to move past the long-term average – and that’s in spite of some notable spikes in the sharing of opinion articles from leading news sites.

ATNIX Week 38: 17-23 Sep. 2012

Overall numbers for this week provide a poor point of comparison, as – due to scheduled server maintenance – most of Friday 21 Sep. is missing from this week’s dataset. Given that this incomplete dataset contains some 108,000 tweets linking to Australian news Websites, and that we would usually expect to see at least another 15,000 such tweets on a Friday, though, we can assume that the total volume for this week would be somewhere upwards of 120,000 tweets – which would be at least a small improvement on the preceding week’s 115,000 tweets linking to news sites. Here’s how they are distributed across the sites we track: the main mover in the leading group is The Age, which surpasses news.com.au by some margin this week, after a virtually dead heat last time around.

ATNIX 38/2012: News Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

The situation for the opinion and commentary sites and sections is particularly interesting this week, as the day-to-day patterns below will also demonstrate. First, the total number of tweets linking to such sites has actually declined a little (from around 17,600 to 16,700), while the Fairfax sites have substantially increased their dominance: the Sydney Morning Herald maintains a remarkable 26% share of all Australian opinion links shared this week (unchanged from the similarly unusual result last week), but The Age now joins it by adding another 17%. This once again pushes it past the long-term runner-up The Conversation, which received roughly the same amount of links as last week, but was clearly outperformed by the substantial spike in The Age shares. There is further shuffling of positions on the minor places (the ABC’s The Drum loses another place, continuing its decline of the past few weeks), but these represent fairly small numbers in the first place.

ATNIX 38/2012: Opinion Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

These patterns are further illustrated by the day-to-day comparisons (ignore the drop in numbers on 21 Sep. due to server maintenance, obviously). Links to the news sites remain below the long-term average, but are generally improved from the previous week; this is especially notable for The Age (in green), which is now well above news.com.au’s purple line. At the same time, there are no obvious spikes in activity – as weeks go, this is a sedate one.

ATNIX 38/2012: News Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

That’s not the case for the opinion and commentary sites and sections, on the other hand: here, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and both spiking on 17 and 19 September, and even Fairfax’s online-only Brisbane newspaper site Brisbane Times gets a minor spike (by its admittedly modest standards) on 18 September:

ATNIX 38/2012: Opinion Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

For the Sydney Morning Herald, the new week continues a trend which the preceding Sunday’s comparatively more minor spike around a piece by sports commentator Peter FitzSimons about the Sydney riots already foreshadowed: a substantial amount of tweets sharing links to commentary about the Innocence of Muslims film and its aftermath. On the Monday, it’s a more considered argument by Waleed Aly which is shared in more than 700 times.

By Wednesday, however, attention is split between this issue and a new political controversy: while another opinion piece on the Sydney protests, by Mohamad Tabbaa, gains some 140 additional shares, the majority of the 19 Sep. spike is driven by opinion articles which discuss the parliamentary debate about same-sex marriage. National Times-cobadged articles about Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi’s hysterical fear campaign and his subsequent resignation as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s personal parliamentary secretary are shared in some 260 tweets, while pieces about NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s intention to allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriage in state parliament and Finance Minister Penny Wong’s fight for the recognition of same-sex relationships each added another 100 tweets.

Similar patterns apply at The Age. Waleed Aly’s piece was published here as well, and receives some 375 tweets on Monday, and a (pre-bestiality) Cory Bernardi also enters this debate, if only as a sideline. At the same time, a piece about the erosion of Australian Internet users’ privacy rights through the government’s proposed data retention laws also receives some 150 tweets. Wednesday, on the other hand, is all about Cory Bernardi: articles discussing his contributions to the same-sex marriage debate account for more than half of all Age links shared on Twitter that day.

By contrast, the smaller spike in Brisbane Time_s links on the Tuesday is purely about state matters, incidentally: some 165 tweets linked to a piece by author John Birmingham on what’s wrong with Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. This makes sense in the overall context of the Fairfax setup, with SMH and Age as the national flagships, and the Brisbane Times as a secondary, local platform which syndicates much of its national coverage from those newspapers – so Fairfax readers who are interested in following the national coverage should be expected to be more likely to link to those sites in their tweets than to the Brisbane Times_.

Standard background information: this analysis is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites. For technical reasons, it does not contain ‘button’ retweets, but manual retweets (“RT @user …”) are included. Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.

See the posts tagged ‘ATNIX’ at Mapping Online Publics for a full collection of previous results.

Axel Bruns does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Second man charged with Woolwich attack

Michael Adebolajo, 28, has been charged with the murder of 25-year-old soldier Lee Rigby as well as the attempted murder of two police officers and possession of a firearm, London’s Metropolitan Police said.

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He will appear before Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Monday.

Adebolajo was one of two Muslim converts of Nigerian descent who were shot by police at the scene of the killing near Rigby’s barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, on May 22.

He and the other suspect, 22-year-old Michael Adebowale, were taken to separate hospitals under armed guard.

Adebolajo was released from hospital on Friday and questioned for a day by counter-terrorism officers before being charged.

Adebowale was also charged with murder and possessing a firearm after leaving hospital on Tuesday.

Both suspects were raised by Christian Nigerian families in London.

The pair were filmed and photographed at the murder scene by witnesses, but legal restrictions prohibit the reporting of further details of the attack.

An inquest into Rigby’s death heard that he was run over by a car before being attacked by two men armed with a cleaver and a knife, on a quiet suburban street in the middle of the afternoon.

Adebowale made his first court appearance on Thursday, speaking only to confirm his name and address before being taken back into custody.

He is due to appear for a bail application at London’s Old Bailey court on Monday, ahead of a pre-trial hearing on June 28.

Ten other people have been arrested in connection with the case, including two women who have been released without charge.

The murder is the first fatal Islamist attack in Britain since suicide bombers killed 52 people in the London transport network in 2005.

In France, a recent convert to Islam was charged on Friday with stabbing a soldier in a busy commercial complex last weekend.

Rigby’s family have called for calm following a number of attacks on British mosques and a rise in anti-Muslim incidents since the shocking murder.

On Saturday, dozens of people were arrested in London as far-right activists, marching in Rigby’s memory, faced off with anti-fascist demonstrators.

Scotland Yard said 58 people from the Unite Against Fascism pressure group were arrested after they gathered to oppose a rally by the far-right British National Party (BNP) near the Houses of Parliament.

There were a couple of minor scuffles at the demonstration, with one BNP supporter suffering from a bleeding nose, but the groups were mainly restricted to trading chants as police separated them behind metal barricades.

The BNP had hoped to march in Woolwich but were banned from doing so by the police, fearing public disorder.

Many of their protesters carried the British flag and some had signs saying “Hate Preachers Out”.

“Britain is a tinderbox waiting to explode,” BNP leader Nick Griffin told AFP.

“We are here — I hope — starting a debate to point out the only way out, or the best way to get peace, is to disengage so there’s a peace treaty between the West and Islam.

“We leave their lands — we stop attacking them, we stop bombing their wedding parties — and in turn, they leave ours. Then we can have peace.”

He added: “We absolutely agree with what Lee Rigby’s family said that nobody should use his death as an excuse or a reason to attack anybody else.”

Anti-fascist demonstrators held up banners reading “Say no to Islamophobia”.

“They’re trying to take advantage of the very sad murder of a young soldier,” UAF chair Steve Hart told AFP.

“We don’t allow the BNP on the streets without opposition.

“In this city, London, the vast majority of the population supports multiculturalism. We’re a multicultural city. We like it, we love it, it’s the way we want to live.”

SKorean course to host 2015 Presidents Cup

The Presidents Cup golf matches will make their Asian debut in 2015 when US and International teams will meet in South Korea, US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Wednesday.

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The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, 64km west of Seoul at Incheon, was selected to be the host for the biennial showdown.

The 2013 edition of the event will be staged in October at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, where 18-time major champion Nicklaus plays host to the US PGA Memorial tournament every year.

The Korean event will be the fifth Presidents Cup staged beyond US borders after South Africa hosted at Fancourt in 2003, Canada’s Royal Montreal hosted in 2007 and Australia’s Royal Melbourne hosted in 1998 and 2011.

“We’re very honoured and proud that Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea has been selected for The Presidents Cup 2015,” Nicklaus said. “The facility makes for an ideal location to host The Presidents Cup. We’re very pleased that the PGA Tour felt the same after evaluating its options throughout Korea.”

The par-72, 7,413-yard layout designed by Nicklaus opened in 2010 with the first official 50-and-over Champions Tour event staged in Asia. The course has also hosted Korean men’s and women’s events.

“This will be a tremendous opportunity to showcase on a world stage the beauty of Korea and the country’s passion for the game of golf,” Nicklaus said.

“Having been fortunate to be involved in several Presidents Cup matches in the past, I know how uniquely special this event is and how it represents to a global audience all that is great about the game of golf.”

“We are thrilled to take The Presidents Cup there, which is not only a milestone in the event’s history but also a significant step in further elevating the game of golf in Korea,” Finchem said.

France continues raids on Mali Islamists

France is continuing a military operation against Islamist forces in Mali, in west Africa.

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The operation is aimed at preventing groups linked to al-Qaeda expanding their power base.

Santilla Chingaipe has the details.

Islamists seized northern Mali in the wake of a coup in March last year which ousted the democratically-elected President Amadou Toumani Toure.

In recent weeks, the Islamists have been winning battles against Mali government forces as they progressed south towards the capital, Bamako.

The United Nations Security Council last month approved sending about 3,000 troops from Mali’s neighbours to try to recapture territory held by the militants.

However, that deployment has so far failed to take place.

French President Francois Hollande says a surge by the rebels into new territory last week had heightened the security situation and prompted France to respond to a plea for help from its former colony.

Mr Hollande says UN Security Council resolutions meant France was acting in accordance with international laws.

“Thanks to the courage of our soldiers, a severe blow was dealt and heavy losses were dealt to our enemies, but our mission has not finished yet. I would like to remind you that it’s made for preparing an African intervention force to allow Mali to recover its territorial integrity in accordance with Security Council resolutions. I have given all instructions and directives so that all the means used by France should be strictly limited within the context of this objective.”

France has been attacking rebel positions from the air, and has landed some 500 troops in Mali.

Mr Hollande says they will be supporting the West African force, once it is deployed.

A spokesman for al-Qaeda’s north African arm Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for the Sahara region has urged France to reconsider its intervention.

“We denounce France’s clear and unequivocal intervention in Mali’s internal affairs. We can’t be clearer than this: this is an operation by the Crusaders in order to destroy the Islamic projects in Mali”.

The group has called on support from Mali’s Islamic neighbours to fight against the French.

It has also warned that France’s military intervention puts French hostages and other French citizens at risk.

The French Foreign Ministry has advised the 6,000 French citizens living in Mali to leave the country.

President Hollande has also ordered tighter security at home in case of reprisal attacks from Islamic extremists.

Support for the French action from other countries is so far very limited.

Britain has offered two military transport planes to carry the West African troops being sent to Mali.

But Britain says it will not be sending any troops of its own.

United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says it is consulting with France.

“Well, obviously we remain deeply concerned about the recent events in Mali. We echo the international community’s condemnation of these recent aggressive acts. As you know, we joined in a very strong security council statement on this. We do understand that France has offered some immediate military support to the Malian armed forces at the request of the Malian government. We are obviously consulting very closely with the government of France going forward.”

Meanwhile, France has also intervened in Somalia in a failed raid to rescue a French intelligence officer being held hostage by the Islamist group, Al-Shabaab.

President Hollande says the operation resulted in the deaths of the hostage, Denis Allex, and two French soldiers.

“I took the decision a few days ago to undertake an action to deliberate of our agents who have been detained for the past three years in atrocious conditions. The operation did not succeed despite the sacrifice of our soldiers and also the assasination of our hostage.”

The Defence Ministry says it believes the Mr Allex had been killed by his captors.

But the al-Qaeda linked group has denied Mr Allex is dead and says it is still holding him.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says French troops underestimated the Islamist rebels’ strength when they launched the operation.

He says it involved some 50 troops and at least five helicopters.

Mr Le Drian says the raid took place on Friday; the same day French troops launched air strikes in Mali.

But he says the operations are not connected.