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Chatter: Deadly Hurricane Sandy strikes Jamaica, Cuba

Hurricane Sandy spreads life-threatening rains and winds across the Caribbean, Syria may or may not have a ceasefire, and the UK exits recession - for now.
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Need to know:
Hurricane Sandy
has killed at least two people as it sweeps across the Caribbean.

The hurricane reached southeast Cuba this morning as a strong category two, carrying winds of up to 114 miles per hour. Hours earlier, it struck Jamaica as a less powerful but still deadly category-one hurricane, causing a man to be crushed to death by boulders sent toppling down a hillside.

Mudslides and flash floods are feared to follow, as Sandy dumps up to 12 inches of rain over parts of the Caribbean. One woman is already reported to have died in western Haiti as she attempted to cross a flooded river.

Parts of the Bahamas are bracing to be hit next; southeast Florida is also on alert, though forecasters say the hurricane will weaken to a tropical storm by the time it reaches the US.

Want to know:
It's just hours before Eid, and with it a ceasefire in Syria, is due to begin – but fighting continues as the government prepares to say whether it will agree to the truce.

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously backed the proposal, which, when UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi announced it yesterday, sounded like a done deal. The Syrian Foreign Ministry, however, said it was still considering the plan.

The opposition Free Syrian Army has agreed to the truce, but at least one other rebel group, the militant Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, has refused to "play these filthy games." And neither the FSA nor anyone else will put down their weapons unless the government does first.

Damascus is due to announce its decision shortly. Meanwhile its troops continue to fire heavy weapons on the capital's civilian neighborhoods, activists report.

Dull but important:
The UK's economy is no longer in recession, thanks partly to the Olympic Games.

The latest figures show that GDP grew by 1.0 percent from July to September, of which 0.2 percent was put down to ticket sales for the London Olympics and Paralympics. The subsequent tourism boost may also have helped, though those revenues are harder to quantify.

One percent growth ain't much, but it's certainly better than decline, which is what the UK economy had been registering for the previous nine months. The Conservative-led coalition claims it shows the country is on the right track, especially compared to its euro-zone neighbors. The Labour opposition, however, says Britain's bump won't continue now that the Olympic wagon has rolled out of town.

Just because:
Authorities in northwest China are offering thousands of dollars for information about people planning to set themselves on fire in quest of Tibetan independence.

Police notices in Gansu province say that residents will receive rewards of up to 50,000 yuan, or nearly $8,000, for warning the authorities about upcoming self-immolations. Anyone with information on those that have already happened will also be compensated.

The notice says the rise in such drastic protests, for which Beijing blames the Dalai Lama, has "seriously affected social harmony and the working order of people's daily lives." Indeed. None more so than those of the three Tibetans who have burned to death in Gansu province in the past five days alone.

Strange but true:
Save the rhinos, eat toenails. That's the blunt message from one conservation-minded South African, who recently sent his own nail clippings to the Chinese embassy in Pretoria in protest at the use of rhino horns in traditional Asian medicine.

Some people believe that rhino horn can cure cancer, reduce fever and prevent hangovers, and are willing to pay thousands of dollars to try it. Artist Mark Wilby says they may as well be grinding up his toenails: both are keratin, the same substance that also makes up human hair, but unlike rhino horn, nails are free – and most importantly, don't involve any endangered species being mutilated or killed.

Wilby admits an envelope full of days-old toenails won't be a pleasant surprise for Chinese diplomats, but says they need to realize "the brutal ignorance and inhumanity being inflicted on the rhinoceros." (Though, as he would know if he'd read GlobalPost's series on rhino poaching, Vietnam is the main market for illegal horns.)

The Chinese embassy, meanwhile, states it has not yet received any toenails in the mail.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/chatter/chatter-deadly-hurricane-sandy-strikes-jamaica-cuba