Pakistan's army chief was named mediator Thursday in a fortnight-long political crisis, fuelling speculation that the military could use the protests against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to re-assert its dominance over the civilian government. Thousands of demonstrators led by populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and politician Imran Khan have been camped outside the parliament building in Islamabad since August 15, demanding the prime minister step down. Qadri and Khan announced General Raheel Sharif would mediate in the stand-off after the cleric earlier on Thursday rejected the government's decision to launch a murder investigation that named the prime minister as a suspect, saying it was not enough. "The Pakistan army chief has officially asked us if it will be acceptable to the Azadi (freedom) march if he becomes a mediator and guarantor," Qadri told followers outside parliament Thursday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was sworn in as Turkey's president Thursday, climbed from a humble youth in Istanbul to become one of the most significant but controversial leaders in the Islamic world. Erdogan, who served as premier since 2003, is lauded by his supporters as a transformative figure who modernised Turkey and delivered power back to the people from the secular and military elite. There is no doubt that Erdogan has his eye on history and wants to be ranked alongside Turkey's post-Ottoman founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as one of its great transformative figures. Should he serve two five-year terms as president, he will be ruling Turkey in 2023 when the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding by Ataturk.
The White House announced on Thursday that Todd Park, a technology and innovation policy adviser to President Barack Obama, is relocating to California to advise the president on technology from there. Park, who had built a reputation as a successful information technology entrepreneur, was thrust into the public spotlight during the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act in the fall of 2013. While not in charge of the technology behind the flawed web portal that crashed when thousands of Americans tried to sign up for health insurance, he was one of several administration officials summoned to Congress to explain the breakdown. Park's focus in California will be on recruiting skilled technology experts into government roles, the White House said.
The United States warned Thursday it was considering new sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the latest fighting in Ukraine. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russian President Vladimir Putin had a choice to make over whether he wanted his people to feel the effects of deepening sanctions. Psaki, however, appeared to rule out a military response to what US and NATO officials said was Russia's direct involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. NATO said more than 1,000 Russian troops were on the ground in eastern Ukraine supporting pro-Moscow separatist rebels fighting Kiev.
Several dozen women gathered outside a military base in central Russia on Thursday to demand that commanders come clean about the whereabouts of their husbands after reports of secret funerals for soldiers covertly sent to Ukraine. The women -- mostly in their 20s, a few with small children -- huddled outside a base that houses paratroopers in Kostroma, around 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Moscow. Some 350 soldiers from the city were this month sent on military drills to the border with Ukraine and then went incommunicado, said one of the women, 26-year-old Valeria Sokolova. Commanders from the base have told her several have returned dead, she said, and around 15 wounded soldiers were also flown back this week.
Argentine workers launched a general strike Thursday to protest rising unemployment and runaway inflation, adding to President Cristina Kirchner's headaches as her government deals with a new debt default. Union members and radical activists barricaded the major roads into Buenos Aires Thursday morning and blocked buses and taxis whose drivers were not observing the strike, the second in less than five months. "If I didn't come to work they were going to dock my pay, and in this crisis you've got to work, otherwise it's like attacking your own wallet," said dental technician Jose Hernandez as he walked to work in Buenos Aires's Recoleta neighborhood. The strike was called in protest over rising joblessness -- the unemployment rate is currently 7.5 percent, up 1.1 points so far this year -- and 30-percent annual inflation that has gutted workers' salaries.
Vital humanitarian aid poured into Gaza on Thursday as residents began rebuilding their lives following a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas that experts say left no winners. Israel agreed to immediately lift restrictions on fishing, allowing boats to work up to six nautical miles from the shore in a move which went into effect early on Wednesday. It also pledged to ease restrictions at the two crossings into Gaza, Erez and Kerem Shalom, to allow the entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials.
War-torn South Sudan faces possible famine early next year, the UN chief in the country warned Thursday, as aid workers said the shooting down of a UN helicopter threatened efforts to save lives. "We all are working very hard to prevent a famine... but I am very worried that we will not be able to prevent it," UN aid chief in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, told reporters. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.8 million have fled a civil war sparked by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar. "The single biggest cause if there is a famine is the failure of the political leadership to resolve this crisis," Lanzer said.
By Gary Robertson RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The prosecution rested its case on Thursday in the bribery and fraud trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, with an FBI agent outlining the amount of time the couple spent together. The couple face a 14-count federal indictment charging they accepted $177,000 in gifts and loans from dietary supplement entrepreneur Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for promoting his company and its main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. Prosecutors' final witness, FBI special agent Kathryn Weber, used pie charts and statistics to show that the McDonnells had spent 90 percent of the 721 nights between April 2011 and March 2013 together.
By Gabriel Debenedetti DALLAS (Reuters) - When Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling sat down with colleagues and constituents at a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch in Dallas, the first question he faced was whether Congress planned to address immigration policy and a burgeoning border crisis. While he was optimistic about long-term prospects for dealing with border security and immigration, he said, "between now and the end of this Congress, I'm a little less sanguine about it." It has been a question heard repeatedly by lawmakers this month in "town hall" district meetings punctuated - and sometimes dominated - by concerns and angry outbursts over immigration policy and the crisis caused by a flood of child migrants at the southwestern border in recent months.
Net migration to Britain increased by more than a third in the past year, official figures showed Thursday, making a key pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to cut numbers even more improbable. The difference between migrants leaving and arriving in Britain rose to 243,000 in the year to March, from 175,000 the previous year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Cameron wants to reduce net migration to below 100,000 per year before Britain's next general election on May 7, 2015. Immigration is expected to be one of the key political battlegrounds at the election, at which Cameron's Conservatives fear a strong challenge from the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP).
The United Nations confirmed that an armed group captured 43 UN peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Thursday, saying it was doing everything to secure their release. "Forty-three peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Quneitra," it said in a statement. An additional 81 peacekeepers were "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah," it added. UN officials noted that the peacekeepers monitoring the armistice line between Israel and Syria were detained twice last year and released safely.
European stock markets sank on Thursday as investors worried over reports of increased Russian interference in war-torn Ukraine, dealers said. By mid-afternoon, London's benchmark FTSE 100 index dropped 0.33 percent to 6,808.33 points and the Paris CAC 40 lost 0.50 percent to 4,373.28 compared with Wednesday's close. "The stand-off between Russia and Ukraine has flared up once again with reports coming out of Kiev suggesting fresh military incursions across the border," said analyst Tony Cross at trading firm Trustnet Direct. - Russia 'involved in Ukraine' -
Lebanese troops clashed with gunmen Thursday in a mainly Sunni Muslim area near the Syrian border where there was deadly fighting with rebels from over the frontier in early August. Hundreds of terrified civilians fled the town of Aarsal, a mainly Sunni enclave within Lebanon's largely Shiite Bekaa Valley which is hosting tens of thousands of Sunni refugees from Syria. The fighting was still raging in late afternoon, with troops shelling the gunmen who had taken up positions on the outskirts of Aarsal, an AFP correspondent reported.
Zambian president Michael Sata on Thursday sacked his justice minister, a top contender in the battle to succeed the reportedly ailing leader. "The president has with immediate effect revoked the appointment of Wynter Kabimba as minister of justice and party secretary general," said presidential spokesman George Chellah. Kabimba, once close to Sata, is seen as a front runner to replace the 77-year-old leader, who has not been seen in public for more than two months and is believed to be gravely ill.
At 13, Samiha left school and the home she shared with 10 people near Baalbek in eastern Lebanon to live in a tent with her new husband, a 41-year-old tradesman. Both she and her husband hail from the town of Qusayr, just across the border in Syria, part of a massive influx of refugees into Lebanon since the war there started. There are no official statistics on child marriage in Lebanon, but it takes place in several rural areas in the country and has risen with the influx of Syrian refugees, experts say. Now, Lebanon is trying to tackle the problem with legislation that would give civil authorities a role in an area that is usually the preserve of clerics.