12.12.2009 to 18.12.2009 A three-day deluge left much of the country under water, causing power cuts and chaos on the roads, the Eritrean football team absconded en masse after a match in Kenya, and an octopus was filmed building itself a house out of coconut shells.
Nice weather for octopuses
Torrential rain lashed the UAE, flooding streets and homes, causing power cuts and leading to 10 deaths on the roads. Al Ain and the capital suffered the worst, with the garden city seeing in three days more than double the average rainfall for December. Roads throughout the country were flooded and traffic slowed to a crawl on Sheikh Zayed Road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai as drivers tried to navigate vast pools. Even so, many drivers seemed oblivious to the hazards. In the worst accident, a 60-seat bus crashed into a stationary lorry on Emirates Road in Dubai, killing two people and injuring dozens.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, was treated in hospital after being hit in the face by a metal and marble replica of Milan's gothic cathedral. His face was cut, his nose broken and he lost two teeth. Mr Berlusconi was greeting a crowd after a political rally in Milan when Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year old engineer with "psychological problems", threw the heavy statuette at him. Mr Tartaglia, who was apparently upset with Mr Berlusconi's stewardship of Italy, later apologised. Replicas of the cathedral are now the hottest-selling Christmas item in Milan, according to stall holders. On the day Mr Berlusconi was due to leave hospital, a second man was arrested trying to break into his room.
The entire Eritrean national football team went missing in Kenya after playing Tanzania in a friendly match. When the plane which was supposed to be carrying the losing side back to Eritrea landed, only the coach and a few officials were on board. The Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations, which organised the match, said the 12 players had probably gone into hiding rather than return to what is considered one of the most repressive regimes in Africa. Eritrea's minister of information, Ali Abdu, assured the players they would receive a "good welcome" despite "betraying" their country.
Abu Dhabi made a US$10 billion (Dh36bn) loan to Dubai to help it placate creditors. The announcement came on the day a $4.1bn Islamic bond issued by Dubai World's property development arm, Nakheel, fell due. Abu Dhabi stressed the loan - in the form of five-year bonds with a four per cent interest rate - was intended to allow Dubai World to satisfy its obligations. Dubai said it would pay back the loan. It is the third time Abu Dhabi has offered financial assistance to its neighbouring emirate.
Tensions between Iran and the United States ratcheted up another notch as the US jailed an Iranian accused of arms smuggling and Tehran said it would put on trial three Americans suspected of spying. Amir Hossein Ardebili was sentenced in Delaware to five years in federal prison after he admitted plotting to ship advanced US military technology to Iran, including fighter plane parts and missile guidance components. The three Americans, who strayed across the border from Kurdish Iraq in late July, claim they were hiking in the mountains. They are being held in Tehran. A few days later, Iran test-fired a medium-range Sajjil 2 missile that would be capable of hitting Israel.
Australian scientists discovered an octopus in Indonesia that collects coconut shells for shelter - unusually sophisticated behaviour that the researchers believe is the first evidence of tool use in an invertebrate animal. The scientists filmed the veined octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, selecting halved coconut shells from the sea floor, emptying them out, carrying them under its body up to 20 metres, and assembling two shells together to make a spherical hiding spot.
Raiders stole US$3.7 million (Dh13.5m) from a bank in Karachi in one of Pakistan's biggest bank robberies. The heist was staged at the main branch of Allied Bank, less than 100 metres from Karachi's police headquarters. Police say the gang was led by a bank guard. The robbers broke into the main vault and stole mostly foreign currency. Police have so far made no arrests.
A top Jewish school in Britain lost an appeal against a ruling that it had discriminated against a 12-year-old boy by refusing to admit him. The Jewish Free School had denied the boy a place - despite his being a practising Jew - because his mother, who converted from Catholiscism to Judasim, was not recognised by the chief rabbi. The boy's family sued the school claiming racial discrimination and in June won their case. The school appealed, but the original judgement was upheld. The ruling is expected to affect the admission procedures of all Britain's faith schools.
A retired couple, who were invited to tour the White House by their congressman, ended up having breakfast with Barack Obama and his wife at a private event for war veterans. The surprise breakfast for Harvey and Paula Darden, from Georgia, took place two weeks before the reality TV hopefuls Tareq and Michaele Salahi gate-crashed a reception Mr Obama held for the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and has raised questions about similar security lapses at the White House. Mr and Mrs Darden had apparently arrived a day early for their tour but, after a security check, were ushered into the East room where they were told they would be meeting the president and to help themselves from the breakfast buffet.
A man was arrested in Brazil after he confessed to sticking more than 40 sewing needles into his two-year-old stepson, in a black magic rite intended to hurt his estranged wife. The man, Roberto Carlos Magalhaes, told police he had been encouraged by his mistress, who said that killing the boy would be revenge on his wife. The mother took her son to hospital after he complained of stomach pains and began to be sick. Doctors found needles up to two inches long inserted in his torso, neck and legs. Some had even penetrated organs.
Millions of British Airways passengers breathed a collective sigh of relief as a High Court in the UK declared a 12-day strike by the airline's cabin crew over the holiday period illegal. The court ruling came at the end of two days of wrangling between BA and the union that represents the cabin crew, Unite, over the planned December 22 to January 2 action. The ruling means that all 910,000 passengers booked on BA flights over that period will not face disruptions. However, thousands of passengers had already rescheduled their flights. Unite leaders warned that the threat of strike action was not over yet, but that it would take at least a month to organise another ballot.
* The National