While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Feb 23 edition

US, Russia announce Syria ceasefire set for Saturday

Washington and Moscow announced on Monday that a cessation of hostilities in war-torn Syria will go into effect on Feb 27, as fierce clashes raged in the country's north.

The announcement comes just one day after the deadliest extremist attack in the nearly five-year war, with 134 people - mostly civilians - killed in a series of blasts near Damascus.

In a joint statement, Russia and the United States said the cessation of hostilities would not apply to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group or Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.


Obama 'cautiously optimistic' Congress will pass TPP trade deal

 United States President Barack Obama said on Monday he is "cautiously optimistic" that Congress will pass the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement between the US and Asian countries.

The approval will hinge on support from "strong pro-trade Democrats" and Republicans "who historically, at least, have been in favour of the free market," Obama said at a meeting of American governors at the White House.

"I am cautiously optimistic that we can still get it done," he said.


Tackling migrant smuggling a 'key priority' says Europol

Europe's police agency said on Monday it has made fighting migrant smuggling a "key priority" as it launched a new centre to help tackle the continent's worst migrant crisis in 60 years.

Rough estimates show criminal gangs generating between three and six billion euros (S$4.6 and $9.3 billion) in people smuggling rackets last year, Europol reported at the opening of its new European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) in The Hague.

"The turnover is set to double or triple if the scale of the current migration crisis persists in the upcoming year," Europol's director Rob Wainwright warned.


Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg 'sympathetic' with Apple's fight with US authorities

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Monday he was "sympathetic" with Apple's chief executive Tim Cook in his stand-off with the US government over breaking into the iPhone of a mass shooter.

"I don't think that requiring back doors to encryption is either going to be an effective thing to increase security or is really the right thing to do. We are pretty sympathetic to Tim and Apple," he said at a the world's biggest mobile congress in Barcelona.

"At the same time we feel we have a really big responsibility running this big networking community to help prevent terrorism and different types of attacks.


Family-friendly Labrador retriever still reigns as America's top dog

The Labrador retriever held onto the title of America's most popular dog breed for the 25th year in a row, even as the upstart French bulldog stole the limelight in New York and other big US cities, the American Kennel Club said on Monday.

The chunky Lab, known for its loping gait and easy-going nature, owes its enduring popularity to its well-deserved reputation as a family pet, AKC Vice President Gina DiNardo. 

"The Lab checks all the boxes," DiNardo said. "It comes in three different colours. Athletic people can play with it, run with it and swim with it. They are family friendly and get along with others."