Cuban President Raul Castro gave an endorsement to peace between the United States and his communist country, with the two nations in talks to restore ties after decades of animosity. Asked by a journalist at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean states what he would most like to see after the US economic embargo of Cuba is lifted, Castro barked: "Peace, peace between us, peace between the United States and us. Castro first said he would have to consider the question because the end of the economic embargo may be a long way away. US and Cuban diplomats met last week in Havana in landmark talks aimed at renewing ties that broke off in 1961.
By Dan Levine SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A passenger who said she had been raped by an Uber driver in India's capital sued the online car service in U.S. federal court on Thursday, claiming the company failed to maintain basic safety procedures. In the lawsuit, the woman, who resides in Delhi and was not named, called Uber the "modern day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking." "Buyer beware - we all know how those horror movies end," the suit stated. In a statement, Uber did not directly address the lawsuit but said it is cooperating fully with the authorities to ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice. India is Uber's largest market outside the United States by the number of cities covered, and the country's radio taxi market is estimated to be worth $6 billion to $9 billion.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday to approve the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite the White House saying earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would veto the measure. The Republican-led Senate passed the bill that would approve TransCanada Corp's project to carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy Canadian crude to Nebraska on the way to Gulf Coast refineries and ports. The House has passed its own pipeline bill and will work with the Senate to send the bill to the Obama's desk. After the potential veto, Obama is expected to make his own decision on the pipeline after the State Department finishes a review in coming weeks.
By Joe McDonald MILFORD, Pa. (Reuters) - The Pennsylvania survivalist who eluded a 48-day manhunt after a sniper attack that killed one state trooper and wounded another pleaded not guilty on Thursday to murder charges. Eric Frein, 31, appeared at his arraignment through a video conference from Pike County Correctional Facility, where he is being held without bail. He was asked by Judge Greg Chelak in the Pike County Courthouse whether he wanted to plead not guilty to fatally shooting Corporal Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass on Sept. 12, 2014 during a late night shift change at the Blooming Grove state police barracks.
By Doina Chiacu and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Secret Service cannot hire new agents for the next presidential election or make improvements at the agency until Congress settles a dispute over funding, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Thursday. Johnson said in a speech in Washington that uncertainty over the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters and protects the president, had put security initiatives on hold. These included recommendations made in December by a review panel on the Secret Service, which has been plagued with a series of security lapses including a White House intruder and a drone that landed on the mansion's lawn early Monday. Secret Service protection extends to major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within four months of a presidential election.
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday formed a political organization to explore a potential run for his party's presidential nomination, the latest high-profile politician to test the 2016 waters. Graham would attempt to use his South Carolina home base to his advantage for any potential run, since the Southern state is typically the third to hold a nominating contest in presidential election years, after Iowa and New Hampshire. "What I'm looking at is, is there a pathway forward on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire for a guy like me?
(Reuters) - Former U.S. Army major Nidal Hasan will appear in a military court on Thursday for a procedural hearing related to his capital punishment conviction for the 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others. Military Judge Colonel Tara Osborn "plans to review routine matters such as Hasan's post-trial rights and elections, discuss the Record of Trial and Hasan's post-trial representation by counsel," U.S. Army officials said in a statement. The hearing will take place at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where Hasan was sent after being sentenced to death for the killings. His death sentence is subject to an automatic appeal.
By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of new confirmed Ebola cases totaled 99 in the week to Jan. 25, the lowest tally since June 2014, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, signaling the tide might have turned against the epidemic. "The response to the EVD (Ebola virus disease) epidemic has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic," the WHO said. "To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible." The outbreak has killed 8,810 people out of 22,092 known cases, almost all of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Cases and deaths have fallen rapidly in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the past few weeks, with just 20 deaths recorded in Liberia in the 21 days to Jan. 25.
New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits plunged to the lowest level in nearly 15 years last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, dropped to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ending January 24, a hefty decline of 43,000 from the prior week's slightly upwardly revised level of 308,000. It was the lowest level for initial claims since mid-April 2000. The Labor Department said there was no particular factor influencing the week's claims data, which is often volatile.
By Julie Steenhuysen ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has introduced camera monitoring of workers in its highest-level biosafety laboratories as it seeks to restore public faith in its procedures after a series of mishaps, agency officials tell Reuters. The mishaps have raised major questions over safety practices at more than 1,000 laboratory and support facilities that make up the CDC, whose role is to monitor and prevent outbreaks of disease. The move to monitor workers will allow lab directors and senior scientists to ensure they have followed safety protocols exactly, Leslie Dauphin, interim director of laboratory safety, told Reuters in an interview. "That is what the camera system helps with." The agency is expected to release details within a week of its own investigation into the Ebola mishap.
By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering FALL RIVER, Mass. (Reuters) - Opening statements are set for Thursday in the first murder trial facing former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez this year, when Massachusetts prosecutors will seek to prove he fatally shot a semi-professional football player in 2013. Hernandez, 25, was a rising star in the National Football League with a $41 million contract when he was arrested in June 2013 and charged with the execution-style killing of acquaintance Odin Lloyd near his North Attleborough, Massachusetts, home in June 2013. The Patriots, who face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday, cut Hernandez hours after his arrest. Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to all three killings, will be tried at Fall River Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, in a trial expected to last six to 10 weeks.