While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Dec 18 edition

US-Cuba ties: Obama, Castro declare historic breakthrough

The United States and Cuba made a historic breakthrough in their Cold War stand-off Wednesday, moving to revive diplomatic ties and launch measures to ease a five-decade US trade embargo.

In the wake of a prisoner exchange, President Barack Obama said the United States was ready to review trade ties and to re-open its embassy in communist Cuba that has been closed since 1961.

Cuba's President Raul Castro, in a simultaneous address in Havana (above), confirmed that the former enemies had "agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties" after more than half a century.

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Pakistan school attack: Captive students told they could go, before being lined up and gunned down - new account

Taleban gunmen who stormed a school in north-west Pakistan toyed with captive students by suggesting some could be let go before lining them up and gunning them down in front of their classmates, according to a new account by survivors.

Militants rampaged through an army-run school in Peshawar and killed at least 141 people on Tuesday, almost all of them children.

Previous accounts by witnesses have indicated a pattern of indiscriminate firing on students with those fortunate enough to survive playing dead while the attackers moved on. But Shahnawaz Khan, a 14-year-old who was being treated in a Peshawar hospital for two bullet wounds to his shoulder, said the attackers also engaged in sadistic games.

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Obama mistaken for waiter, valet driver, and wife Michelle for shop assistant

Barack and Michelle Obama have revealed their experiences of racism in a wide-ranging interview with celebrity weekly People Magazine published Wednesday.

Mrs Obama recalled an incident in a Target department store where she appeared to have been mistaken for a shop assistant; husband Barack revealed he had once been mistaken for a waiter at a black-tie gala.

"These incidents in the black community, this is the regular course of life," said the First Lady.

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Fed makes no policy changes, says can be 'patient' over interest rates

The US Federal Reserve made no changes to its monetary policy Wednesday, saying it can remain "patient" before moving to raise interest rates and normalising its easy-money stance.

In a policy statement at the end of a two-day meeting, the Fed left in place expectations that it would begin raising interest rates only in the middle of 2015, downplaying thoughts that it might come earlier than that because of the strength of the US economy.

The Fed left its key interest rate, the federal funds rate, at the 0-0.25 per cent level, where it has been for six years to help the US emerge from deep recession.

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US cinemas cancel film parody of North Korea leader after threats

US cinemas cancelled screenings, including a red-carpet New York premiere, of a madcap comedy that offended North Korea, after mysterious computer hackers issued a chilling threat.

Hollywood studio Sony Pictures said it is not pulling the film, but is leaving it to theatre chains to decide whether to show the movie, which depicts a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Skittishness about attending the movie follows threats by the so-called GOP (Guardians of Peace) hacking group, which invoked the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in an ominous warning to any movie-goers planning to see the film. The group warned in a message written in broken English that a "bitter fate" awaits any who attend the film.

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