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U.S. Senate Democrats cut $1 billion from Obama border request

By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday proposed cutting $1 billion from President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion emergency funding request to deal with a surge of some 57,000 undocumented Central American children across the southern border. Obama on July 8 asked lawmakers to approve $3.7 billion to bolster border security and speed deportation proceedings, but Congress has yet to take action on the request. At a luncheon on Tuesday, Senate Democrats discussed what their response should be. "Based on a review of what is needed...to meet needs at the border, the bill reduces the president’s request by $1 billion," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski.

Lebanese soldier deserts and joins jihadists

A Lebanese soldier who deserted was shown in a video distributed online on Wednesday seated beneath a flag of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front and announcing he has defected. A military official told AFP that a military conscript he named as Atef Saadeddine had deserted. In the video, Saadeddine said he was deserting because of army "bias" towards Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah organisation, which has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to support Assad's troops. The video shows Saadeddine in military gear.

US 'deplores' twin Nigeria attacks

The United States on Wednesday called for a full investigation of twin bombings in Nigeria, denouncing the latest violence blamed on Boko Haram militants, which left at least 42 dead. Washington "deplores" the attacks in the city of Kaduna targeting a prominent cleric, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States wants to "extend our sympathies to the loved ones" of those killed. Nigerian police said the first attack was carried out by a suicide bomber on the convoy of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, a cleric who has fiercely criticized Boko Haram's deadly five-year uprising.

Shebab militants shoot dead famed Somali singer and MP

Somali lawmaker and prominent singer-songwriter Saado Ali Warsame was shot dead Wednesday in the capital Mogadishu in the latest attack by Shebab insurgents against the government, police and witnesses said. The shooting, with gunmen spraying her car with bullets before escaping, is the latest in a string of shootings or bombings targeting government officials. "Lawmaker Saado Ali Warsame was killed with her driver," police officer Mohamed Hassan said. Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, who threatened earlier this year to kill the country's MPs "one by one", claimed responsibility for the attack.

South Africa to block foreigners from buying land

South Africa's government will forbid foreigners from buying land within five years, but will not expropriate those who already possess deeds, the land affairs minister said Wednesday. "The principle is that foreign nationals should not own land but should have a long-lease with a minimum of 30 years," Gugile Nkwinti, minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, told a news conference. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) of Nelson Mandela is under pressure to reverse centuries of discrimination against the majority black population. A key injustice is a 1913 law that restricted black land ownership to around 10 percent of the territory, and the government has struggled for years to compensate dispossessed black communities.

Hamas rejects Gaza truce unless blockade lifted

Hamas Wednesday rejected a ceasefire to end 16 days of deadly fighting with Israel unless the blockade on the Gaza Strip is lifted, its chief Khaled Meshaal said in Doha. "We reject today... and will reject in the future" a ceasefire before negotiations on Hamas's demands, which include lifting years of blockade against the Palestinian enclave, Meshaal told reporters. Lifting the eight-year blockade is a main demand of Hamas which also wants the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Israel to free prisoners. As international calls for an end to the fighting in Gaza mount, Meshaal insisted that the Islamist Hamas "welcomes all efforts to end the aggression" and "does not object" to mediation by any party, including Egypt.

Exclusive: Obama sends team to Texas to assess need for National Guard deployment

By Jeff Mason SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has sent a team to Texas to assess whether a U.S. National Guard deployment would help to handle an immigration crisis at the Mexican border, White House officials told Reuters on Wednesday, having so far resisted Republican calls for such a move. The team, made up of officials from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, departed on Tuesday and will be on the ground through Thursday. The White House had previously resisted calls from Republicans to deploy the National Guard to fight the onslaught of migrants from Central America because most of the unaccompanied minors and others making the crossing were turning themselves in voluntarily.

South Africa sets 5 years to stem military decline

Continental military power South Africa committed Wednesday to save its armed forces from meltdown within five years, amid budget constraints and increasing involvement in peacekeeping missions around Africa. A review earlier this year found the South African Defence Force (SANDF) was in a "critical state of decline" after two decades of underfunding. "Although the SANDF is still able to maintain operational presence, if we do not start now, the decline will get worse," she told parliament in her budget speech. "Our mandate in the next five years is to act fast to restore the minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa, protect its maritime resources and trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions," said Mapisa-Nqakula.

Iran leader urges Palestinians to keep fighting Israel

Tehran (AFP) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Palestinians Wednesday to keep fighting Israel and to extend a conflict that has killed nearly 700 Gazans to the occupied West Bank.

Stopping deadly oil train fires: New rules planned

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to a series of fiery train crashes, the government proposed rules Wednesday that would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars that carry increasing quantities of crude oil and other highly flammable liquids through America's towns and cities.

UN rights council launches probe into Israel's Gaza offensive

The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday launched a probe into the Gaza offensive, backing calls by the Palestinians to hold Israel to account despite fierce opposition from the Jewish state. The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where the Israelis and the Palestinians traded accusations over war crimes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media office slammed it as a "travesty" that ignored violations by Palestinian Hamas Islamists. "This resolution is not constructive, it is destructive," Harper said, noting it lacked "any semblance of balance" because it made no mention of Hamas' attacks.

Boehner lauds doctor who saved lawmaker's baby

WASHINGTON (AP) — A choked-up House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) has interrupted a series of votes to praise a doctor who helped a congresswoman's infant survive a rare condition.

Iraq defence minister heads to Moscow with wish list

Iraq's defence minister flew to Moscow on Wednesday to ask his counterpart for military equipment, as his forces struggle to hold off a jihadist-led Sunni militant offensive, a spokesman said. "Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi left Baghdad for Moscow," Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP. He said the minister was carrying a letter from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Russian President Vladimir Putin "explaining the security and political situation in Iraq and the need to strengthen military cooperation".

Groups ask to move Florida election, draw new map

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge is being asked to move this year's election dates — including postponing next month's primary — in order to draw up new congressional districts for the state.

Senators push to end Hamas threat in cease-fire

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans and Democrats insisted on Wednesday that any viable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants must eliminate the threat posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels.

Iraq MPs stall presidential vote as violence rages

Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday postponed choosing a new president for their ailing country while air strikes, suicide car bombs and summary executions yielded their daily grim crop of bodies. In a sign of deepening crisis in Iraq, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Baghdad on Thursday and is likely to address the political infighting that has paralysed a country sorely in need of strong leadership. A government air raid on the jihadist-held town of Sharqat northwest of Baghdad killed at least three women and a child, a senior army official told AFP. Also in Sharqat, IS gunmen killed a woman former candidate for parliament and wounded a women's rights activist, tribal and military sources said.

Russia set to raise growth forecast despite sanctions threat

Shrugging off the threat of additional Western economic sanctions, Russian officials indicated on Wednesday that the 2014 growth forecast is likely to be doubled. "We are moving at a level of about one percent annual growth in GDP ... and are likely to stay there until the end of the year" senior Kremlin advisor Andrei Belousov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. Russia's current 2014 growth forecast of 0.5 percent is set to be updated, and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said at a separate news conference that at this point "we're talking about an increase to the forecast". The European Union and United States imposed in April only limited sanctions on Russia that target individuals and businesses.

Canadian charged with joining Islamist fighters in Syria

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced terrorism charges Wednesday against a 25-year-old Canadian for allegedly traveling to Syria to fight alongside Islamist fighters. The charges against Hasibullah Yusufzai, 25, are the first ever laid against a Canadian under a new law passed last year that criminalized travel abroad for the purpose of terrorist activities. "On July 17, 2014, the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) in British Columbia charged Hasibullah Yusufzai, age 25, a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, for leaving Canada to take part in terrorist activity," Sergeant Greg Cox said in a statement. "The accused is being sought for leaving Canada on January 21, 2014, to commit an offence for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group," he said.