Silent Skype calls can hide secret messages

Got a secret message to send? Say it with silence. A new technique can embed secret data during a phone call on Skype. "There are concerns that Skype calls can be intercepted and analysed," says Wojciech Mazurczyk at the Institute of Telecommunications in Warsaw, Poland. So his team's SkypeHide system lets users hide extra, non-chat messages during a call.

Mazurczyk and his colleagues Maciej Karaƛ and Krysztof Szczypiorski analysed Skype data traffic during calls and discovered an opportunity in the way Skype "transmits" silence. Rather than send no data between spoken words, Skype sends 70-bit-long data packets instead of the 130-bit ones that carry speech.

The team hijacks these silence packets, injecting encrypted message data into some of them. The Skype receiver simply ignores the secret-message data, but it can nevertheless be decoded at the other end, the team has found. "The secret data is indistinguishable from silence-period traffic, so detection of SkypeHide is very difficult," says Mazurczyk. They found they could transmit secret text, audio or video during Skype calls at a rate of almost 1 kilobit per second alongside phone calls.

The team aims to present SkypeHide at a steganography conference in Montpellier, France, in June.

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

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Tennis: China's Li beats Zakopalova in Shenzhen final

BEIJING: Chinese star Li Na captured her seventh career title and second on home soil when she beat Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 on Saturday in the Shenzhen Open final.

The world number seven and the competition's top seed had lost two of the pair's three previous meetings and suffered some final set jitters at the $500,000 tournament when she allowed the fifth-seeded Czech to come back from 2-5 down to 5-5.

But Li closed out victory with two quick games.

Li's previous victory in China came at Guangzhou in 2004 that made her the first Chinese player ever to win a tour trophy.

Her other five WTA titles came at Gold Coast in 2008, Birmingham in 2010, Sydney and the French Open in 2011 and Cincinnati in 2012.

"Klara played well and I managed my mood swings well, and I'm glad I made it," Li said as she continued her build-up to the opening Grand Slam event of the year, the Australian Open which starts in Melbourne on January 14.

"Winning the title certainly helps boost my confidence for the coming weeks, but it also depends on how I'm playing on the courts. Confidence itself won't guarantee a win.

"But I'm very happy to win and the Shenzhen Open was a great tournament - I believe it will get even better in future years."

Zakopalova is now 2-10 in WTA finals, but she has the consolation of knowing that she is projected to rise from her current world ranking of 28 past her career-high of 26, which she set back in 2006.

"It was about a few points today but she really proved she's a top player - she played her best from 5-all," Zakopalova said.

"She's playing unbelievably fast and flat, and she's hitting her backhand down the line very well. To me she's one of the top three players right now and I hope she can make it there.

"There's no way to be sad about losing - I lost to a top player and I'm happy to reach the final."

- AFP/de

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Jail escapee appears in court, is ordered held without bond

Chicago Tribune reporter Jason Meisner on the recent arrest of Kenneth Conley, a convicted bank robber who escaped from federal jail in December. (Posted on: Jan. 4, 2013.)

Escaped bank robber Kenneth Conley is being held in custody without bond as ordered by a U.S. District Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan after appearing in federal court this morning.

Conley was wheeled into court in a wheelchair.

The spectacular jailbreak — the first at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in almost 30 years — embarrassed federal authorities and seemed to be meticulously planned. Conley and Joseph "Jose" Banks rappelled to freedom using a rope fashioned from bedsheets. But like Banks, who was arrested two days after the escape in the North Side neighborhood where he was raised, Conley had no apparent plan for life on the run and was found holed up in an area where he had known ties.

Palos Hills police said a maintenance worker at a building in the 10200 block of South 86th Terrace called police about 3:30 p.m. to report the "suspicious person" who might be sleeping at the premises. Officers arrived to find a man walking down the street in an overcoat and pretending to use a cane. He appeared to be trying to look older than his actual age, police said.

"Our officers stopped to talk to him and he said he was just visiting," Deputy Chief James Boie told the Tribune. "He gave them a phony name, and while they're trying to run the information, he got wise that they were going to figure it out, and he pushed one of the officers down and took off running."

Boie said two additional officers responding to the scene caught Conley about a block away as he was trying to force his way into the Scenic Tree apartment complex, which is across the street from the police headquarters. He was wrestled down but did not offer any other resistance. Conley and one officer were taken to Palos Community Hospital for observation, he said.

Police found a BB pistol in Conley's pocket. He had no cash or other weapons, Boie said.

According to court records, Conley once lived in an apartment near the scene of his arrest. Boie said Conley was known to Palos Hills police because he'd had multiple resisting and obstructing arrests in 2004.

Conley, 38, was awaiting sentencing for a single bank holdup when authorities said he and Banks removed a cinder block from their cell wall and scaled down about 15 stories of the sheer wall of the jail early on Dec. 18. The cellmates were last accounted for during a routine bed check, authorities said. About 7 a.m. the next day, jail employees arriving for work saw the bedsheets dangling from a hole in the wall down the south side of the facade.

The FBI said a surveillance camera a few blocks from the jail showed the two wearing light-colored clothing hailing a taxi at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue about 2:40 a.m. They also appeared to be wearing backpacks, according to the FBI.

A high-ranking employee in the facility told the Tribune last month that video surveillance had captured the men making their descent but that the guard who was supposed to be watching the video monitors for suspicious activity might have been called away on other duties.

In the hours after they were discovered missing, Conley and Banks were traced to the southwest suburbs where Conley's family lives.

A brother of Conley's who asked that his name not be printed told the Tribune last month that a short time after the escape, Conley and Banks arrived at the family home in Tinley Park pounding on the door. Conley came in looking frazzled, claiming he had been freed on bond, the brother said. He said their mother gave him a winter coat and turned him away.

Banks was arrested Dec. 20 after an informant led authorities to the home of a boyhood friend of Banks' in the 2300 block of North Bosworth Avenue, less than five miles from the jail.

Meanwhile, Conley tasted two more weeks of freedom but did not get much farther. His arrest was just over 21 miles from the downtown jail.

According to court records, Conley has a long criminal history. He has been convicted in Cook County of offenses ranging from retail theft to weapons violations and was sentenced to eight years in prison for an armed robbery in 1996. He also was sentenced to six years in prison in San Diego County for petty theft with a prior conviction, according to California records.

Less than a year after his parole in 2010, Conley robbed a bank in suburban Homewood of less than $4,000 cash, the heist that landed him in the federal lockup.

Conley's mother, Sandra, answered the phone at her Tinley Park home Friday and said she had heard of her son's arrest but had no details or comment.

"I'm just glad it's over. That's my only comment," she said.

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Best Pictures: 2012 Nat Geo Photo Contest Winners


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Debt Limit Negotiating Tactic? No Negotiating

ap obama ac 130102 wblog In Fiscal Wars No Negotiation Is a Negotiating Tactic

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk away from the podium after Obama made a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


New for 2013: In the Washington, D.C. fiscal wars we’ve gone from everything must be on the table to politicians declaring they won’t debate.

The fiscal cliff deal either averted disaster or compounded the problem, depending on who you ask. It certainly created new mini-cliffs in a few months as Congress and the president square off on the debt ceiling, spending cuts and government funding. But it also made sure the vast majority of Americans won’t see as big a tax hike as they might have.

President Obama was pretty clear late on New Year’s night as he reacted to Congress’s passage of a bill to take a turn away from the fiscal cliff. He won’t negotiate with Republicans about the debt ceiling.

“Now, one last point I want to make,” said the president, before wrapping up and hopping on Air Force One for a redeye to Hawaii. “While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed.”

(Read more here about the Fiscal Cliff)

That’s pretty clear. No debt ceiling negotiation. Then he added for emphasis: ”Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.”

But in Washington, saying you won’t do something these days has almost become like an opening bid. At least, that’s how Republicans are treating the president’s line in the sand.

“The president may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it’s the fight he is going to have because it’s a debate the country needs,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, in an op-Ed on Yahoo! News about 36 hours later. “For the sake of our future, the president must show up to this debate early and convince his party to do something that neither he nor they have been willing to do until now.”

“We simply cannot increase the nation’s borrowing limit without committing to long overdue reforms to spending programs that are the very cause of our debt,” McConnell said.

The national debt is soon set to reach $16.4 trillion. That’s not a problem that can be solved with one bill or budget. And the two sides will have to figure out some sort of way to talk about entitlement/social safety net reform – meaning things like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – in addition to cutting spending and, most importantly, hope for an improving economy, to deal with those deficits.

House Speaker John Boehner, who has several times now failed to reach a big, broad fiscal deal with President Obama, told colleagues, according to The Hill newspaper, that he’s done with secret White House negotiations. He wants to stick with the constitutional way of doing things, with hearings and bills that are debated on Capitol Hill rather than hatched by the vice president and Senate Republicans.

Okay. Obama won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling. McConnell won’t not negotiate on the debt ceiling. Boehner doesn’t to do things by the book.

But McConnell won’t negotiate on taxes any more.

“Predictably,” McConnell had written earlier in his post, “the president is already claiming that his tax hike on the ‘rich’ isn’t enough. I have news for him: the moment that he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over.”

It’s a new chapter in the ongoing fiscal saga in Washington. Back when the two sides were talking about a grand bargain or a big deal – some sort of all-inclusive reform that would right the listing deficit with one flip of the rudder – the popular trope was that “everything must be on the table.” That’s basically how Obama put it back in the summer of 2011 when he and Boehner failed to reach a grand bargain. He wanted higher taxes – they were calling them revenues back then. More recently, after Obama won the election and when he and Boehner were trying to hammer out another grand bargain to avert the fiscal cliff, Boehner wanted entitlements on the table. That means he wanted to find ways to curb future spending.

Both sides are declaring they won’t debate certain points, but this far – a full two months – before the mini-cliffs start, those are easier declarations to make than they will be when the government is in danger of defaulting or shutting down.

Even though they’re trying to take elements off the table, both men hope that coming negotiations can be a little more cordial and a little less down-to-the wire.

“Over the next two months they need to deliver the same kind of bipartisan resolution to the spending problem we have now achieved on revenue — before the 11th hour,” wrote McConnell.

“The one thing that I think, hopefully, in the New Year we’ll focus on is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinksmanship, not scare the heck out of folks quite as much,” said Obama.

That’ll be tough if neither side will talk about what the other side wants to talk about.

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Graphic in-car crash warnings to slow speeding drivers

Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent


(Image: Cityscape/a.collection/Getty)

"You would die if you crashed right now." Would such a warning make you take your foot off the accelerator? That's the idea behind a scheme to warn drivers of the consequences of speeding developed by engineers at Japan's Fukuoka Institute of Technology and heavy goods vehicle maker UD Trucks, also in Japan. They are developing what they call a "safe driving promotion system" that warns drivers what kind of crash could ensue if they don't slow down.

Their patent-pending system uses the battery of radar, ultrasound sonar and laser sensors found in modern cars and trucks to work out the current kinetic energy of a vehicle. It also checks out the distance to the vehicle in front and keeps watch on its brake lights, too. An onboard app that has learned the driver's reaction time over all their previous trips then computes the likelihood of collision - and if the driver's speed is risky, it displays the scale of damage that could result.

The warning that flashes up could vary from something like a potential whiplash injury due to a rear-end shunt to a fatal, car-crushing collision with fire. The inventors hope this kind of in-car advice will promote safety more forcefully than current warning systems, which merely display the distance to the vehicle in front. "A sense of danger will be awakened in the driver that makes them voluntarily refrain from dangerous driving," they predict.

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Delhi gang-rape victim's boyfriend speaks out

NEW DELHI: The boyfriend of a 23-year-old woman who died after a brutal gang rape on a New Delhi bus spoke out Friday for the first time about the savage attack that has sparked protests across the nation and his own trauma over his inability to save her.

The 28-year-old man, who suffered a fractured leg and other injuries in the attack, has been deeply traumatised and is currently at his parents' home in rural northern India where he is taking time out from his job at a software firm in New Delhi.

"What can I say? The cruelty I saw should not be seen ever. I tried to fight against the men but later I begged them again and again to leave her," he told AFP in an interview by phone from Gorakhpur, a town in Uttar Pradesh state.

On December 16, the couple had been out to watch a movie and decided to get into a private bus when several rickshaws had refused to drive them back to the victim's home in a New Delhi suburb.

Once in the bus, he was attacked and his girlfriend was gang-raped by six allegedly drunk men, including the driver, who also violated her with an iron bar causing immense internal damage that would lead to her death last weekend.

The horrifying crime has appalled India and brought simmering anger about widespread crime against women to the boil amid angry calls for better protection by police and changed social attitudes.

The boyfriend, who asked not to be named, also recounted how passersby had failed to come to their rescue after they were thrown out of the moving vehicle at the end of their nearly hour-long ordeal.

He was also critical of police for failing to be sensitive to his and his girlfriend's mental condition and also raised questions about the emergency care given in the public hospital where she was admitted.

"A passerby found us (after the attack), but he did not even give my friend his jacket. We waited for the police to come and save us," he told AFP.

The police have since arrested six suspects for the crime -- five men and a minor believed to be aged 17 -- who were charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in a city court on Thursday.

"I was not very confident about getting into the bus but my friend was running late, so we got into it. This was the biggest mistake I made and after that everything went out of control."

The driver of the bus then made lewd remarks and his accomplices joined him "to taunt" the couple, the boyfriend said.

He said he told the driver to stop the bus, but by then his accomplices had locked the two doors.

"They hit me with a small stick and dragged my friend to a seat near the driver's cabin."

After that the "driver and the other men raped my friend and hit her in the worst possible ways in the most private parts of her body".

"I cannot tell you what I feel when I think of it. I shiver in pain," he said.

He said the police who came to their rescue took his girlfriend to a government hospital, but failed to take into account his injuries and mental trauma.

"I was treated like an object by the police.... They wanted all the help to solve the case even before getting me the right treatment. Nobody witnessed the trauma I suffered," he said.

- AFP/jc

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Judge: No felony for dad in Facebook posting

A Cook County judge today reversed himself, reducing the conviction to a misdemeanor for a dad who posted a Facebook photo of his 22-month-old bound and gagged with tape.

Judge Lawrence Flood had convicted Andre Curry in November of aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery, both felonies, and was scheduled to sentence him today when he did an abrupt about-face.

In reducing Curry’s conviction to misdemeanor domestic battery, the judge said that after reviewing the law, he found no intent to obstruct the child's breathing. He sentenced Curry to 18 months of probation and ordered him to take parenting classes.

Despite his change of heart, Flood said that Curry showed an extreme "lack of judgment."

"In your rush to show everyone how funny you were, you used...a helpless 22-month-old child who was completely dependent on you as a prop," Flood said. “This was not funny, OK? I want you to understand the gravity of your lack of judgment in this case."

Curry thanked the judge in a soft voice and apologized to his family.

"I'm sorry for everybody who’s been on the edge of their seats out there," he said. 

Curry, 22, had been free on bond since his felony conviction but had faced up to 7 years in prison before the judge changed his mind.

At trial, Flood had acquitted Curry of unlawful restraint but found him guilty of the two battery counts, saying in a brief ruling that by placing tape over the girl's mouth, he had obstructed her breathing for his own enjoyment.

"To use a a toy or a prop in an odd attempt at humor is conduct of an insulting or provoking nature," Flood said at the time.

Curry told police he was playing with his daughter one night at their South Side home and used blue painter’s tape to bind her ankles and wrists and cover her mouth. He then snapped a photo and uploaded it on his Facebook page.

Across the top of the photo were the words: "This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back," according to prosecutors and police reports. The message was followed with a winking emoticon.

Family members have said that Curry is playful and the photograph was meant to be a joke.

But the image went viral on the Internet, prompting a flood of calls to police and state child-welfare authorities from Curry’s friends on Facebook and others who had seen it.

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What Lives in Your Gut?

As we enter a new year, many of us will start thinking—if only temporarily—about improving our diet and lifestyle habits. Maybe you'll resolve to drink more water, eat less fat, get more exercise.

But what does your gut want? A new citizen science project aims to find out.

"What diet should you be eating to achieve an optimal, healthy microbiome in your gut? We don't know yet but finding out could be the key to helping people overcome many chronic diseases," said Jeff Leach, co-founder of the American Gut project.

(Read about the secret world of microbes in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.)

The concept of the crowd-funded project is simple: Pay $99, get a sample collection kit, and mail back a test tube containing "a little bit of brown" swabbed from your used toilet paper. Participants will also be asked to log their food intake for three days and answer a detailed questionnaire about how and where they live.

"Are you a vegetarian? Were you born via C-section? Do you live in a rural or urban area? Do you have dogs? All of these things can influence your microbiome," Leach said.

In return, participants will receive an analysis revealing what organisms dwell in their gut and showing how their own microbial ecosystem compares to others—including a group of hunter-gatherers Leach has been studying in Tanzania. (That research has not yet been published, but he says it reveals "big differences" between the guts of people who consume a Western diet of highly processed foods and those who eat more traditional diets.)

"There's been a lot of research about the human microbiome recently, but the general public never gets to figure out what's in their gut unless you do something like this," said Leach.

Microbes play several vital roles in the gut, including maintaining the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract, protecting against pathogens, and helping the body harvest calories and digest fiber.

Having too much or too little of certain bacteria could contribute to inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases. Recent studies have linked diabetes and obesity to imbalances in gut bacteria.

"We want people to understand that this is a major aspect of their health that's in their control," Leach said. "You're born with your genes, but you can shift your microbiome through diet and lifestyle changes."

About a thousand people have joined the project so far, and Leach is hoping another 3,000 or more will sign up to receive a kit before the February 1 deadline.

For more information, visit the American Gut Project

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Quadruple Amputee Gets Two New Hands on Life

It's the simplest thing, the grasp of one hand in another. But Lindsay Ess will never see it that way, because her hands once belonged to someone else.

Growing up in Texas and Virginia, Lindsay, 29, was always one of the pretty girls. She went to college, did some modeling and started building a career in fashion, with an eye on producing fashion shows.

Then she lost her hands and feet.

Watch the full show in a special edition of "Nightline," "To Hold Again," TONIGHT at 11:35 p.m. ET on ABC

When she was 24 years old, Lindsay had just graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University's well-regarded fashion program when she developed a blockage in her small intestine from Crohn's Disease. After having surgery to correct the problem, an infection took over and shut down her entire body. To save her life, doctors put her in a medically-induced coma. When she came out of the coma a month later, still in a haze, Lindsay said she knew something was wrong with her hands and feet.

"I would look down and I would see black, almost like a body that had decomposed," she said.

The infection had turned her extremities into dead tissue. Still sedated, Lindsay said she didn't realize what that meant at first.

"There was a period of time where they didn't tell me that they had to amputate, but somebody from the staff said, 'Oh honey, you know what they are going to do to your hands, right?' That's when I knew," she said.

After having her hands and feet amputated, Lindsay adapted. She learned how to drink from a cup, brush her teeth and even text on her cellphone with her arms, which were amputated just below the elbow.

"The most common questions I get are, 'How do you type,'" she said. "It's just like chicken-pecking."

PHOTOS: Lindsay Ess Gets New Hands

Despite her progress, Lindsay said she faced challenges being independent. Her mother, Judith Aronson, basically moved back into her daughter's life to provide basic care, including bathing, dressing and feeding. Having also lost her feet, Lindsay needed her mother to help put on her prosthetic legs.

"I've accepted the fact that my feet are gone, that's acceptable to me," Lindsay said. "My hands [are] not. It's still not. In my dreams I always have my hands."

Through her amputation recovery, Lindsay discovered a lot of things about herself, including that she felt better emotionally by not focusing on the life that was gone and how much she hated needing so much help but that she also truly depends on it.

"I'm such an independent person," she said. "But I'm also grateful that I have a mother like that, because what could I do?"

Lindsay said she found that her prosthetic arms were a struggle.

"These prosthetics are s---," she said. "I can't do anything with them. I can't do anything behind my head. They are heavy. They are made for men. They are claws, they are not feminine whatsoever."

For the next couple of years, Lindsay exercised diligently as part of the commitment she made to qualify for a hand transplant, which required her to be in shape. But the tough young woman now said she saw her body in a different way now.

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Has the Kyoto protocol done more harm than good?

Fifteen years after its painful birth in Kyoto, Japan, the world's first legally binding agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases ended this week.

For some it is a victorious conclusion. The 37 industrial nations that stuck with the protocol after the US pulled out in 2005 say they exceeded their promises, cutting their emissions for the period from 2008 to 2012 to an average of 16 per cent below 1990 levels, compared with the 4.7 per cent promised in the agreement.

But the protocol only ever applied to rich industrialised nations. Most of the cuts came from Eastern European countries when their economies collapsed after the fall of the Berlin Wall - reductions that would have happened anyway.

Emissions rise

In the same period, global emissions have risen by 50 per cent, thanks to the rapid industrialisation of nations such as China, not covered by the original deal.

Formally the protocol lives on. Climate talks in Doha in December created a second "compliance period" stretching to 2020, when diplomats promise a new deal involving all nations will come into force. But with Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada pulling out, this next period only covers nations which contribute 14 per cent of global emissions, mainly the European Union and Australia.

What's more, phase 2 contains the same fundamental loophole as the first deal. Too many rich countries have met their targets by moving their carbon-intensive industries, such as steel and aluminium manufacturing, offshore to nations not covered by the protocol.

Moving to China

This allowed the UK to easily meet its Kyoto target, cutting its domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 23 per cent from 1990 levels by 2011. But several assessments of its total carbon footprint - including emissions produced from the manufacture of imported goods - reveal an increase of around 10 per cent since 1990, even allowing for the recent economic downturn.

Worse still, most of the new manufacturing nations are both highly inefficient users of energy and power their manufacturing largely with the dirtiest of the major fuels, coal. The result is higher emissions.

Energy economist Dieter Helm from the University of Oxford asked recently: "What exactly is the point of reducing emissions in Europe if it encourages energy-intensive industry to move to China, where the pollution will be even worse?"

It seems likely that, in this way, the Kyoto protocol may actually have increased global emissions. Ouch.

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.

If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.

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Football: Balotelli and Mancini clash in training-ground row

LONDON: Mario Balotelli's future at Manchester City was cast into doubt once again on Thursday after photographs emerged showing him in an apparent training-ground bust-up with manager Roberto Mancini.

Media reports claimed that Mancini lost his temper with his Italian compatriot after Balotelli made a reckless challenge on team-mate Scott Sinclair at the club's Carrington training base on the edge of Manchester.

The pictures, published widely in the British media, show Mancini gripping Balotelli's orange bib in an apparent rage, before the two men are separated by members of City's coaching staff.

An eye-witness, quoted in local newspaper the Manchester Evening News, said: "Mancini ran at him -- he was furious. He grabbed hold of him and appeared to try and throw him on the floor.

"It looked like Mario was too strong and he couldn't get him down. Then all the coaches ran in to separate them but Mancini was having none of it. He kept trying to break free and have a go at him again."

Balotelli was also pictured walking to his car in the car park after the end of the session.

The Italy striker, 22, has been a recurrent source of controversy ever since arriving in Manchester from Inter Milan in 2010.

He has twice been dropped from City's match-day squad this season and Mancini has repeatedly warned him that he is in danger of wasting his talent.

In December, Balotelli dropped legal action against City after taking them to a Premier League tribunal in an attempt to overturn a fine of two weeks' wages over his poor disciplinary record last season.

Mancini also chastised him after a sloppy performance in City's 3-2 loss to Manchester United in last month's Manchester derby, in which he was substituted in the 52nd minute.

"I love Mario like a guy, and as a player, but I think it's important for him to start to think about his job if he wants to play well," said Mancini.

"When you have a player with Mario's quality, you can't believe that he throws his quality out of the window.

"I've seen players in my life with fantastic quality who ended up with nothing and I don't want Mario to finish like these players, because it will be bad for him."

Balotelli is yet to play since that game, with a virus having ruled him out of City's festive fixtures, but he could feature in Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie against second-tier Watford.

- AFP/jc

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Major step: Kirk returns to Senate


Keeping a pledge he made last spring, Sen. Mark Kirk climbed the Capitol steps on Thursday to mark his return almost a year after suffering a major stroke.

The 53-year-old Republican from Illinois was greeted by two top Democrats: Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois.

Using a four-pronged cane, Kirk made the climb assisted by Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who is Kirk’s best friend in the Senate. Hundreds of well-wishers stood and applauded, including more than 60 members of Congress.

Biden, addressing Kirk as he began his climb, remarked: “You got all day, pal. It took me seven months to make these steps.” The vice president in 1988 was absent from the Senate for months because ofo surgeries for brain aneurysms.

The vice president grasped Kirk's right upper arm, and Manchin, on the left, kept his hand around Kirk’s waist, to assist and guide him on the way up.

"Hi, guys," Kirk told reporters and photographers.Kirk's climb took about 20 minutes, since he paused at times, giving a hearty wave or a thumbs-up to cheering lawmakers. He got a hug and kiss from one lawmaker, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

Kirk, wearing eyeglasses, a light blue tie and a dark suit and overcoat, conquered each step chiefly using his right leg and foot, as his left leg remains impaired. His left arm appeared largely immobilized.

Several House and Senate members from Illinois were among those who turned out, cheering "Bravo" when Kirk reached the top of the steps at the Senate’s exterior door, located on the second floor of the Capitol. One of them was Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a double amputee from the Iraq war, who called it a "fantastic day" for people with disabilities and for the nation.

"Nice to see you guys," Kirk told reporters when he entered the hallway leading to the Senate.  A reporter asked what it was like to be back, and Kirk had two words: "Feels great."
Kirk then took his regular desk on the Senate floor, where Biden swore in more than 30 new senators.

Kirk’s stroke last Jan. 21 forced him to learn how to walk again. In a video released last May, he announced: “I'm walking again, leading to my hope to climb the 45 steps that my staff counted from the parking lot to the Senate front door to fight for the people of Illinois.”

The lawmaker, from Highland Park, served almost 10 years in the House before he was elected in November 2010 to succeed Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to fill the term of another Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama, now president.

Kirk, who is up for re-election in 2016, will continue to undergo rehabilitation while in Washington, where he has new, handicapped-accessible living quarters on Capitol Hill, said spokesman Lance Trover.

Medical professionals who oversaw Kirk’s three surgeries and subsequent recovery from the ischemic stroke were to address reporters later today in the Capitol.

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Pictures: Errant Shell Oil Rig Runs Aground Off Alaska, Prompts Massive Response

Photograph courtesy Jonathan Klingenberg, U.S. Coast Guard

Waves lash at the sides of the Shell* drilling rig Kulluk, which ran aground off the rocky southern coast of Alaska on New Year's Eve in a violent storm.

The rig, seen above Tuesday afternoon, was "stable," with no signs of spilled oil products, authorities said. But continued high winds and savage seas hampered efforts to secure the vessel and the 150,000 gallons (568,000 liters) of diesel fuel and lubricants on board. The Kulluk came to rest just east of Sitkalidak Island (map), an uninhabited but ecologically and culturally rich site north of Ocean Bay, after a four-day odyssey, during which it broke free of its tow ships and its 18-member crew had to be rescued by helicopter.

The U.S. Coast Guard, state, local, and industry officials have joined in an effort involving nearly 600 people to gain control of the rig, one of two that Shell used for its landmark Arctic oil-drilling effort last summer. "This must be considered once of the largest marine-response efforts conducted in Alaska in many years," said Steve Russell, of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation.

The 266-foot (81-meter) rig now is beached off one of the larger islands in the Kodiak archipelago, a land of forest, glaciers, and streams about 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of Anchorage. The American Land Conservancy says that Sitkalidak Island's highly irregular coastline traps abundant food sources upwelling from the central Gulf of Alaska, attracting large numbers of seabirds and marine mammals. The largest flock of common murres ever recorded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in Sitkalidak Strait, which separates the island from Kodiak. Sitkalidak also has 16 wild salmon rivers and archaeological sites tied to the Alutiiq native peoples dating back more than 7,000 years.

Shell incident commander Susan Childs said Monday night that the company's wildlife management team had started to assess the potential impact of a spill, and would be dispatched to the site when the weather permitted. She said the Kulluk's fuel tanks were in the center of the vessel, encased in heavy steel. "The Kulluk is a pretty sturdy vessel," she said. " It just remains to be seen how long it's on the shoreline and how long the weather is severe."

Marianne Lavelle

*Shell is sponsor of National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge initiative. National Geographic maintains editorial autonomy.

Published January 2, 2013

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Senate Swears in Historic 20th Female Senator

Today the Senate will make history, swearing in a record-breaking 20 female senators -- four Republicans and 16 Democrats -- in office.

As the 113th Congress is sworn in today on Capitol Hill, ABC "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer has an exclusive joint interview with the historic class of female senators.

Diane Sawyer's complete interview will air on "World News" and "Nightline" tonight.

"I can't tell you the joy that I feel in my heart to look at these 20 gifted and talented women from two different parties, different zip codes to fill this room," Sen. Barbara Mikulksi, D-Md., said while surrounded by the group of women senators. "In all of American history only 16 women had served. Now there are 20 of us."

Senator-elect Deb Fischer, R-Neb., today becomes the first women to be elected as a senator in Nebraska.

"It was an historic election," Fischer said, "But what was really fun about it were the number of mothers and fathers who brought their daughters up to me during the campaign and said, "Can we get a picture? Can we get a picture?' Because people realize it and -- things do change, things do change."

Tammy Baldwin Becomes First Openly Gay Senator Watch Video

Elizabeth Warren Wins Massachusetts Senate Race Watch Video

The women senators all agree that women will be getting things done in this new Congress, a sign of optimism felt for the new Congress, after the bruising battles of the 112th Congress.

"We're in force and we're in leadership positions, but it's not just the position that we hold. I can tell you this is a can-do crowd," Mikulski said of both Democrats and Republican senators in the room. "We are today ready to be a force in American politics."

And while the number of women in the Senate today makes history, many of the women agreed that they want to keep fighting to boost those numbers.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that women are still "underrepresented" in the Senate.

"I think that until we get to 50, we still have to fight because it's still a problem," Boxer said. "I think this class as you look around, Republicans and Democrats. ... I think that because of this new class and the caliber of the people coming and the quality of the people coming, I think that hopefully in my lifetime -- and I really do hope and pray this is the case -- we will see 50 percent. "

No Sorority Here, Even With the Will to Work Together

The cooperation does not make them a "sorority," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says. There are real differences in ideology and personality and they don't want their gender to define them as senators.

But the women also admit that they believe having more women in the room would help in fierce negotiations, compromise and legislating on Capitol Hill, traits they say do not come as naturally to their male colleagues in the Senate. That sentiment enjoys bipartisan support among the women of the Senate.

"What I find is with all due deference to our male colleagues, that women's styles tend to be more collaborative," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said by nature women are "less confrontational." Sen-elect Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, says that women are "problem solvers."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., says that women have a camaraderie which helps in relationships that are key to negotiations on Capitol Hill, something she says comes natural to women more than men.

"I think there's just a lot of collaboration between the women senators and... advice and really standing up for each other that you don't always see with the men," she said.

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Humble coin toss thrust to heart of multiverse debate

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Iran claims shooting down two US-made RQ-11 drones

TEHRAN: Iran on Wednesday said it had shot down two US-made RQ-11 reconnaissance drones in the past 15 months, adding to a ScanEagle drone and RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft it already claims to have captured.

"The army's air defence shot down two... RQ-11 drones," Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari told state television and Fars news agency, adding that the army was carrying out "research" on the downed unmanned aircraft.

He said the first had been brought down in August to September 2011 and the second in October to November 2012, but gave no details of their location.

He did not offer proof for the claim.

Iran has in the past claimed to have hunted down a number of US drones, showing detailed images of the alleged spoils.

In December it said it had captured a small US ScanEagle drone in its airspace above the Gulf, which the US navy denied.

A year before that, it claimed to have captured a much bigger and more sophisticated CIA stealth drone, an RQ-170 Sentinel.

The AeroVironment RQ-11 type aircraft that Rastegari said had been shot down is a small, hand-launched and remote-controlled drone used by US military intelligence, and has also been adopted by some US allies.

It has a range of over 10 kilometres and can fly at up to 95 kilometres per hour for 80 minutes.

Rastegari made the announcement after a six-day Iranian naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of the world's marketed oil passes.

Several surface-to-air missiles were fired as part of the manoeuvres, according to Iranian media.

- AFP/jc

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'Fiscal cliff' aftermath: Fights loom on spending cuts, debt ceiling

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans looked ahead today toward the next round of even bigger budget fights after reaching a hard-fought "fiscal cliff" deal that narrowly averted potentially devastating tax hikes and spending cuts.

The agreement, approved late on Tuesday by the Republican-led House of Representatives after a bitter political struggle, was a victory for Obama, who had won re-election on a promise to address budget woes in part by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

But it set up political showdowns over the next two months on spending cuts and on raising the nation's limit on borrowing. Republicans, angry the deal did little to curb the federal deficit, promised to use the debt ceiling debate to win deep spending cuts next time.

Republicans, who acknowledged they had lost the fiscal cliff fight by agreeing to raise taxes on the wealthy without gaining much in return, vowed the next deal would have to include significant cuts in government benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid health care for retirees and the poor that were the biggest drivers of federal debt.

"This is going to be much uglier to me than the tax issue … this is going to be about entitlement reform," Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on CNBC.

Obama urged "a little less drama" when the Congress and White House next address thorny fiscal issues like the government's rapidly mounting $16 trillion debt load.

While the tax package that Congress passed will protect 99 percent of Americans from an income tax increase, most of them will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013.

That's because the legislation did nothing to prevent a temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax from expiring. In 2012, that 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax was worth about $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.

The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington research group, estimates that 77 percent of American households will face higher federal taxes in 2013 under the agreement negotiated between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans. High-income families will feel the biggest tax increases, but many middle- and low-income families will pay higher taxes too.

Households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will face an average tax increase of $579 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center's analysis. Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will face an average tax increase of $822.

"For most people, it's just the payroll tax," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

The tax increases could be a lot higher. A huge package of tax cuts first enacted under President George W. Bush was scheduled to expire Tuesday as part of the "fiscal cliff." The Bush-era tax cuts lowered taxes for families at every income level, reduced investment taxes and the estate tax, and enhanced a number of tax credits, including a $1,000-per-child credit.

The package passed Tuesday by the Senate and House extends most the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 and married couples making less than $450,000.

Obama said the deal "protects 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small business owners from a middle-class tax hike. While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country."

The income threshold covers more than 99 percent of all households, exceeding Obama's claim, according to the Tax Policy Center. However, the increase in payroll taxes will hit nearly every wage earner.

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with employers paying half and workers paying the other half. Obama and Congress reduced the share paid by workers from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for 2011 and 2012, saving a typical family about $1,000 a year.

Obama pushed hard to enact the payroll tax cut for 2011 and to extend it through 2012. But it was never fully embraced by either party, and this time around, there was general agreement to let it expire.

The new tax package would increase the income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on income above $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. Investment taxes would increase for people who fall in the new top tax bracket.

High-income families will also pay higher taxes this year as part of Obama's 2010 health care law. As part of that law, a new 3.8 percent tax is being imposed on investment income for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000.

Together, the new tax package and Obama's health care law will produce significant tax increases for many high-income families.

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Space Pictures This Week: Ice “Broccoli,” Solar Storm


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Lawmakers Furious at Boehner Over Sandy 'Betrayal'

Republican lawmakers from New York and New Jersey whose storm-ravaged residents are desperate for federal aid are fuming at their party's leaders for refusing to hold a vote on a $60 billion disaster relief package despite promises that help was on the way.

"This was a betrayal," Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., told ABC "It's just reprehensible. It's an indefensible error in judgment not have given relief to these people that are so devastated."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, called it a "dereliction of duty" in a joint statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

"This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented," the governors said.

Lawmakers were told by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that the relief bill would get a vote on Tuesday night following an eleventh hour vote on the fiscal cliff bill. But in an unexpected switch, Boehner refused to put the relief bill to a vote, leading to lawmakers from parties yelling on the floor of the House.

Congress historically has responded to natural disasters by promptly funding relief efforts. The Senate already passed its version of the bill that would replenish an emergency fund set to run out of cash next week and which will help repair subways and tunnels in New York City and rebuild parts of the New Jersey shore devastated by superstorm Sandy.

Time is particularly pressing, given that a new Congress will be sworn in Thursday. The Senate will therefore have to vote on the bill again before it comes to the House, which could be as late as February or March.

Boos as House Adjourns Without Hurricane Sandy Relief Watch Video

'Fiscal Cliff' Deal Passes House Despite GOP Holdouts Watch Video

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y., took the floor of the House and to the airwaves and aimed his outrage squarely at Boehner, accusing him plunging "a cruel knife in the back" of storm-ravaged residents "who don't have shelter, don't have food," he said during a House session this morning.

"This is not the United States. This should not be Republican Party. This shouldn't not be the Republican leadership," King said on the floor of the House.

He made no attempt to hide his anger, suggesting that residents in New York and New Jersey should stop sending money to Republicans and even questioning aloud whether he could remain a member of the party.

"Anyone who donates one cent to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined," King, a staunch conservative and Republican congressman for 10 years, told CNN.

"They have written off New York and New Jersey. They've written me off…. Party loyalty, I'm over that. When your people are literally freezing in the winter… Then why should I help the Republican Party?" he added.

He said that Boehner refused to talk to Republican members from New York and New Jersey when they tried to ask him about the vote Tuesday night.

"He just decided to sneak off in the dark of night," King said.

Democrats were also outraged.

"It is truly heartless that the House will not even allow the Sandy bill to come to the floor for a vote, and Speaker Boehner should reconsider his ill advised decision," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D- N.Y., said in a statement.

October's storm was the worst natural disaster ever to hit the region, causing billions in damage and leaving 120 people dead.

More than 130,000 people are expected to make claims to the federal government, but without a funding increase only about 12,000 people can be covered with existing funds.

"It doesn't make sense they wouldn't vote on this. There are truly people in need," said Steve Greenberg, whose home was flooded and damaged by fire in the hard-hit Breezy Point section of Queens. "Not of these people are fit to serve," he said.

Grimm said Boehner's decision fuels a perception that the Republican Party does not care about people.

"It buys into the ideology that Republicans don't care and are callous," he said. Grimm said there were enough votes to get the bill passed and that it makes fiscal sense, because the money would go to help spur small businesses.

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In-depth 2012: The best long reads of the year

Read more: "2013 Smart Guide: 10 ideas that will shape the year"

Dig deeper, look closer and think harder – these are the goals of New Scientist's in-depth articles. Each one is perfect for saving in your favourite read-it-later app and curling up in front of a glowing tablet for a good long read.

These are our editors' picks of our best features of the year, and all are prime examples of the amazing breadth of big ideas that were ripe for the tackling in 2012. When you have finished digesting these readable meals, visit our in-depth articles archive if you're hungry for more.

Richard Webb: "You might not have heard of the algorithm that runs the world." I certainly hadn't, or that its mathematical foundations are starting to look a little wobbly. An eye-opening examination of how seemingly abstruse mathematics is in fact deeply embedded in modern life: "The algorithm that runs the world"

Sally Adee: Gastric bypass surgery is the best surgery you're not getting, said Dr Oz on his popular medical advice show in the US. Because of enthusiasm from people like him, this operation has become massively popular – but by whimsically hacking at our stomach, might we might be messing with a system far more complicated than anyone really understands? Samantha Murphy had the surgery and began to realise that losing 45 kilograms could come with some profound neurological trade-offs: "Change your stomach, change your brain"

Michael Le Page: Nowadays most people either haven't heard of the 1970 book The Limits to Growth, or believe – wrongly – that the research it was based on has been discredited. But the main message of Limits is perhaps more relevant than ever – that a delayed response to mounting environmental problems leads to catastrophe further down the line: "Boom and doom: Revisiting prophecies of collapse"

Richard Fisher: This is a simple story about a scientific mystery. Strange rumbles, whistles and blasts have been reported all over the world for centuries. In New York state, they are called "Seneca guns"; in the Italian Apennines they are described as brontidi, which means thunder-like; in Japan they are yan; and along the coast of Belgium they are called mistpouffers – or fog belches. Yet the cause is often unexplained – what on Earth could be behind them? "Mystery booms: The source of a worldwide sonic enigmaSpeaker"

Valerie Jamieson: It's been a sensational year for particle physics, but the Higgs boson isn't the only fascinating particle in town. Meet 11 more particles that change our understanding of the subatomic world: "11 particles for 11 physics puzzlesMovie Camera"

David Robson: What is the secret of the legendary "flow state" that seems to mark out genius in everyone from piano virtuosos to tennis champions? With the latest brain stimulation techniques, it may soon be within everyone's reach, and Sally Adee writes with panache as she describes her own use of the technology during a terrifying marksmanship training session. This has everything I want to read in a story – drama, a revolutionary idea and some practical advice for anyone to try at home: "Zap your brain into the zone: Fast track to pure focus"

Graham Lawton: The writer of this article, Christopher Kemp, is a self-confessed lover of marginalia – nooks and crannies of science that are often overlooked. But as this beautifully written story reveals, those nooks and crannies often contain rich and fascinating material. Material, in fact, like ambergris: "Heaven scent: The grey gold from a sperm whale's gut"

Ben Crystall: Many people may remember the wonder material Starlite from an episode of BBC TV's Tomorrow's World – it seemed to have a miraculous ability to withstand fire and heat. So what happened to it? In this feature Richard Fisher uncovers the strange tale of Starlite and its eccentric inventor Maurice Ward, and on the way reveals fascinating details about Ward and his creation. And though Ward is dead, the story may not be over – it now looks like Starlite could get a second chance… "The power of cool: Whatever became of Starlite?"

Clare Wilson: I enjoyed working on this feature the most this year because to me it truly represents the future of medicine. New Scientist often predicts that some new medicine or technology will be available in five years' time. When it comes to using gene therapies or stem cell therapies on babies in the womb – the subject of this feature – the timeline is probably more uncertain, yet I don't see how anyone can doubt that some day it will happen: "Fetal healing: Curing congenital diseases in the womb"

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.

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Football: United start 2013 with bang to keep City at bay

LONDON: Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.

Champions Manchester City remain United's nearest rivals after a 3-0 success at home to Stoke City, while Tottenham Hotspur climbed to third by coming from behind to defeat second-bottom Reading 3-1 at White Hart Lane.

Javier Hernandez had already had a goal ruled out for offside at the DW Stadium when he put United 1-0 up against Wigan by tapping in after Ali Al Habsi saved from Patrice Evra in the 35th minute.

Robin van Persie got off the mark for the New Year eight minutes later, collecting a pass from Hernandez and sending Ivan Ramis to the turf with a dummy before curling the ball inside the right-hand post.

Hernandez added a third in the 63rd minute, swivelling to dispatch a half-volley when a van Persie free-kick arrived at his feet, before the Dutchman completed a brace of his own in the 88th minute with his 16th league goal.

City dominated the early stages at home to Stoke, who had gone into the game looking to protect a 10-match unbeaten run.

Pablo Zabeleta broke the deadlock two minutes before half-time, rolling the ball into an empty net after Asmir Begovic touched away James Milner's low cross with his foot.

Sergio Aguero was the creator of City's second in the 56th minute, with a low drive that was parried by Begovic, only for Edin Dzeko to turn the loose ball home.

Aguero scored a 74th-minute penalty after Steven Nzonzi was adjudged to have tripped David Silva, but the Argentine had to leave the fray moments later after appearing to sustain a hamstring injury.

Tottenham fell behind in the fourth minute against Reading when Pavel Pogrebnyak headed the visitors in front, but Michael Dawson's header meant the hosts were level within five minutes.

Spurs were dominant from then on, Emmanuel Adebayor putting them in front with a powerful 51st-minute header before Clint Dempsey's fortuitous deflected strike made it 3-1.

Victory took Spurs a point clear of Chelsea, who have two games in hand and host bottom club Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday.

Aston Villa put an end to a run of three straight defeats, in which they had conceded 15 goals, by drawing 2-2 at Swansea City, who equalised through Danny Graham in injury time.

Christian Benteke had put Villa ahead with an 84th-minute penalty, after Wayne Routledge's ninth-minute opener for the hosts had been cancelled out by Andreas Weimann.

West Ham United were also on the up, beating Norwich City 2-1 through goals from Mark Noble and Joey O'Brien to climb to 11th.

Earlier, Fulham shook off their slumbers from 2012 to win 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion and record only their second win in 13 matches.

Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov had the honour of scoring the first goal of 2013 at the Hawthorns, with Alex Kacaniklic netting a 58th-minute winner after Romelu Lukaku equalised early in the second half.

Fifth-place Arsenal, 7-3 victors against Newcastle United on Saturday, visit Southampton in the evening kick-off.

- AFP/jc

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