Italy: A tourist tax that Venice is to introduce in May has been criticised by Italy's Tourism Minister as "useless and damaging". Plans to charge tourists €3 from May 1 were announced by Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of the city. The fee will rise to €8 during high season and €10 during "critical" times when visitor numbers reach excessive levels. But within 24 hours of the plan's unveiling, Gian Marco Centinaio, Minister for Tourism, called the tax a "useless and damaging measure". He tweeted: "Do we want to become a country that repels tourists?" The controversial tax, which has been approved by Venice city council, is designed to make the millions of day-trippers who descend on La Serenissima each year contribute to the upkeep of the lagoon city. "The aim is to improve the quality of life for residents," said Brugnaro.
North Korea: The nuclear and missile programmes in North Korea "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes, UN experts said in a new report. The experts' report to the Security Council says the country continues to defy UN sanctions, including through "a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal." The country also continues to violate an arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods and financial sanctions, the experts said.
Mexico: A jury at the US trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman concluded its second day of deliberations without a verdict after jurors sent the judge a handful of notes indicating interest in the kingpin's alleged attempts at diversifying his smuggling operation to include methamphetamine. One note asked for a reading of testimony about the Sinaloa cartel's efforts around 2005 to obtain ephedrine from Asia to produce meth. The jury also listened to an intercepted 2011 phone call in which Guzman talked about wanting more customers for "ice" in the US. In addition, the jury was provided transcripts of extensive testimony by two brothers from a Colombian drug-trafficking clan. The pair of narcos detailed how they used a fleet of private planes to supply cocaine to the cartel during the Colombian-Mexican coke boom the 1990s and 2000s. He could get life in prison if convicted on multiple conspiracy charges.
Space: It turns out our Milky Way galaxy is truly warped, at least around the far edges. Scientists in China and Australia released an updated 3D map of the Milky Way. They used 1339 pulsating stars — young, newly catalogued stars bigger and brighter than our sun — to map the galaxy's shape. The farther from the centre, the more warping, or twisting, there is in the Milky Way's outer hydrogen gas disc. Researchers say the pattern is likely caused by the spinning force of the massive inner disc of stars. One astronomer notes we usually think of spiral galaxies as being flat, like Andromeda. At least a dozen other galaxies appear to have warped edges in a similar spiral pattern. The study appears in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Egypt: Parliament advanced a proposal to amend the constitution in a way that could allow President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to stay in office well beyond the end of his current term in 2022. Al-Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president and was elected the following year. He has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, and was re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race. A constitutional amendment to extend his rule would add to concerns that the country is slipping back into authoritarianism eight years after a pro-democracy uprising ended Hosni Mubarak's nearly three-decade rule. The 596-seat assembly will take a final vote on February 17. A national referendum would need to be held to amend the constitution.
Belgium: A Belgian environment minister has been forced to resign after saying she had state security confirmation that massive climate demonstrations in recent weeks were staged as a plot against her. The regional environment minister, Joke Schauvliege, initially refused to step down after admitting she had no such information from state security services. She was forced to resign later after talks with her party leadership. Schauvliege said: "I said something that was not correct," but insisted it did not amount to lying. The opposition said it was outrageous to lie and to abuse the name of the state security organisation for personal purposes.
United States: A nurse facing criminal charges in the rape of an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a long-term care facility in Phoenix pleaded not guilty during a brief court appearance. The only comments by Nathan Dorceus Sutherland came when he identified himself to the court and stated his birth date. Afterward, Sutherland's lawyer vowed a vigorous defence, but declined to answer questions from reporters. Authorities say Sutherland, 36, was working at a licensed practical nurse at Hacienda Healthcare in Phoenix when he raped the 29-year-old victim, who has been in long-term care since age 3 after suffering a near-drowning. She gave birth to a boy at the facility on December 29. Investigators say Sutherland's DNA matched a sample from the woman's newborn boy, who is being cared for by her family.
Bangladesh: Angelina Jolie urged Burma to show a genuine commitment to ending violence and displacement in its Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh for safety. Jolie, a special envoy for the UN's refugee agency, spoke as she visited sprawling camps in Bangladesh that are home to a million Rohingya refugees. Jolie is visiting for three days before launching a global appeal for US$920 million, chiefly to support the refugees' needs for 2019. She met and talked with refugees, including children and rape victims. Jolie said: "They have been denied their most basic human right: citizenship in their country of birth. And some still won't even call the Rohingya by their rightful name." She thanked Bangladesh for hosting the refugees despite being over populated, and urged the international community to provide more resources for the refugees.