Iraqi security forces backed by volunteer militiamen on Thursday retook several villages located on the way to the town of Amerli, which jihadists have besieged for months, officers said. Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi told AFP that villages north of Al-Adhaim were retaken as part of a major operation aimed at advancing toward Amerli. In addition to the Iraqi forces advancing toward Amerli from the south, a civilian volunteer commander said that thousands of Shiite militiamen from groups including Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organisation were gathering in the Tuz Khurmatu area, north of Amerli, in preparation for a battle to break the siege.
South Africa's government-appointed public protector refused to back down Thursday in the face of attacks from the ruling party over her allegations of corruption against President Jacob Zuma. Thuli Madonsela told a news conference she was seeking a meeting with Zuma to discuss the "hysteria" over her confrontation with him, which has sparked speculation of a constitutional crisis. Madonsela reported in March that Zuma had "benefited unduly" from $24 million (18 million euros) of taxpayers' money spent on so-called security upgrades at his rural home -- an amount which would buy several mansions in Johannesburg or on the beachfront in Cape Town. Zuma's failure to respond in time and in full to the allegations led to disruptions in parliament and a public struggle between the public protector's office and Zuma's ruling African National Congress.
Colombian authorities have arrested 32 local politicians for alleged ties to right-wing paramilitary groups that fueled the country's 50-year conflict before being disbanded a decade ago, prosecutors said Thursday. The mayor of the port town of Turbo, William Palacio Valencia, was among those arrested. "The investigation indicates these people are linked to the Elmer Cardenas block, which was led by Freddy Rendon Herrera, alias 'The German,'" said a prosecution statement. Rendon is accused in the killings of 4,301 people during a wave of massacres and violence that swept the Uraba region in the 1990s and 2000s, when paramilitary groups waged a campaign of terror aimed at intimidating local voters.
Washington's envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council Thursday that Russia "must stop lying," accusing Moscow of sending soldiers, tanks and weaponry to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. The blunt accusation came during an emergency session of the council called after NATO reported that hundreds of Russian government troops had crossed into east Ukraine to shore up the pro-Kremlin fighters. "Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fueling this conflict," US Ambassador Samantha Power said. We see Russia's actions for what they are: a deliberate effort to support and now fight alongside illegal separatists in another sovereign country."
Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong was added to the list of possible names for streets and buildings in the South African capital Pretoria on Thursday despite protest from opposition parties. The ruling African National Congress pushed through the name of the founder of the People's Republic of China, whose government was an ally against apartheid, at a meeting of the city's council. "Mao Zedong was a revolutionary in his own right. This is one of the criteria the city used to select the name," city spokeswoman Lebogang Matji was quoting as saying by Sapa news agency.
Ukraine and the West said Thursday that Russian troops were actively involved in the fighting tearing apart the east of the country, raising fears of a direct military confrontation between Kiev and its former Soviet master. The UN Security Council began an emergency meeting on the growing crisis with the United States envoy Samantha Power demanding Russia "stop lying" over the conflict. President Barack Obama was due to speak in Washington at 2000 GMT Thursday as other US officials raised the prospect of fresh sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the latest fighting. "Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fuelling this conflict," Power told the 15-member security council as European leaders urged Moscow to change course or suffer "very serious consequences."
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.