WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama interrupted the White House daily press briefing on Friday to announce that his spokesman Jay Carney is stepping down, and named as a replacement Josh Earnest, Carney's deputy. Obama said he would miss Carney and his advice, but called Earnest "a straight shooter and a great guy" who had been part of his team since he first ran for president. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
Optimism that tourism would lift bailed-out Cyprus from recession was dented on Friday as revenues from tourist spending plunged 14.5 percent in March on the same month last year, official data showed. Tourism income in March fell to 56.5 million euros from 66 million euros in the same month of 2013. Last year the debt-ridden island overcame financial meltdown brought on by a banking crisis to record an 8 percent hike in tourism revenues. Despite annual tourist arrivals dipping 2.4 percent to 2.4 million in 2013, revenues generated from holidaymakers increased to 2.08 billion euros –- its highest level for more than a decade -- from 1.92 billion in 2012.
Brazil is to deploy a 170,000-strong security force for the World Cup to deter hooligans from home and abroad. Mass protests against the tournament and deadly fan violence have put authorities on alert ahead of the start of the tournament on June 12. The threat of hardline fans from across the border in Argentina or flying in from England and other European nations has accentuated the sense of urgency. Prresident Dilma Rousseff this week ordered the army to reinforce police guarding the hotels and training camps for the 32 countries taking part, the defence ministry said.
The State Department said Friday it was "troubled" by reports that a Chinese blogger who met top US diplomat John Kerry had been fired by his employer. Journalist Zhang Jialong was one of four bloggers who met Kerry in Beijing in February, when he urged the United States to help "tear down the great Internet firewall." "We are deeply concerned by reports that one of the bloggers who met with the secretary has been fired from his job after meeting with secretary Kerry," the State Department said.
Hillary Clinton has given her most detailed account yet of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, but said she will not join the "political slugfest" over the tragedy. In excerpts from her forthcoming memoir "Hard Choices" published Friday by Politico, Clinton offered a blunt rebuttal to Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly accused her of bungling the response to the deadly attack on the US mission and of misleading the American public. "Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country," President Barack Obama's first secretary of state said in perhaps the book's most anticipated chapter, "Benghazi: Under Attack." Clinton, who lost out to Obama in their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, is mulling a second White House run, and her upcoming book tour -- following the memoir's release June 10 -- is widely seen as a way to lay the groundwork for a 2016 campaign.
Kiev has sent a first gas payment to Moscow, paving the way for further talks next week to avert a Russian gas shutdown to Ukraine, negotiators said Friday. "We don't have a final deal yet but we have made progress," EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said after mediating between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and his Ukrainian counterpart Yuriy Prodan, as well as the CEOs of both national energy companies. The Berlin talks were the third Russia-Ukraine meeting aiming to resolve a bitter standoff between Moscow and its former Soviet satellite, held before a deadline next Tuesday when Russia had threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine. Amid the Ukraine crisis, Russia's energy giant Gazprom has raised gas prices and demanded $5.17 billion (3.79 million euros) from the crisis-hit and cash-strapped country for past gas shipments and June deliveries.
Moroccan King Mohamed VI arrived in Tunis Friday for his first official visit to the country since the January 2011 popular uprising that toppled a decades-old dictatorship, an AFP photographer said. The king, whose three-day visit comes at the invitation of Moncef Marzouki, was met by the Tunisian president at the airport in Aouina near the capital mid-afternoon. Eleven ministers and some 90 businessmen are accompanying the king on the visit, his first since the January 2011 uprising that unseated Tunisia's longtime strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and touched off the Arab Spring uprisings across the region. Mohamed VI will also meet Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Saturday and give a speech to the National Constituent Assembly at 1530 GMT.
Ghana's president on Friday said West African leaders must welcome "all assistance" in the battle against extremism at an emergency regional summit on unrest threats facing the region. The comments came as Nigeria's leader, Goodluck Jonathan, confronts increasing domestic pressure over his decision to accept foreign military support to rescue 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. "In order to successfully fight... terrorism, we must avail ourself of any and all assistance that is offered," John Dramani Mahama said at the opening of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Ghana's capital. The meeting is focused on combatting the Boko Haram insurgency that has shaken regional powerhouse Nigeria and the crisis in Mali, where Tuareg rebels have launched a fresh series of attacks in the restive north.
Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - With rebel leaders accused of looting supermarkets and car showrooms being robbed by "revolutionaries", the pro-Russian stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine is slipping into anarchy. "A few days ago, armed men in hooded tops arrived at two car showrooms. With the town under the control of pro-Russian militants and many of the police switching allegiance to support the insurgents, Donetsk has become a lawless city.
The International Monetary Fund released $4.6 billion in aid to Greece Friday, after a yearlong delay to ensure Athens was meeting targets set by bailout lenders. The disbursement followed the release at the end of April by the Eurogroup of 6.3 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in rescue program support to Greece, in a firm nod to its progress in cleaning up its finances and narrowing its budget deficit. The IMF funds are part of a four-year joint package with the European Union set in March 2012 and worth a total of $235 billion (173 billion euros) to rescue the sinking Greek economy. The Greek government though has fought to limit the austere demands of lenders, as it remained stuck in a grinding recession dating back to 2008.
The trial of a former Lebanese minister accused of plotting attacks and transporting explosives has been postponed to December 5, a judicial source told AFP on Friday. Michel Samaha was due to face a military court on Friday but the judge, Brigadier General Khalil Ibrahim, postponed the hearing because the ex-minister's alleged co-conspirator, Syrian security services chief Ali Mamluk, was absent. We had handed the arrest warrant to Libanpost (Lebanon's postal service) but the company told us they could not deliver the letter because of the situation in Syria," the source said. Mamluk -- one of Syria's most senior security officials -- is believed to be in Syria.
Beijing on Friday slammed as "provocative" a proposal by US lawmakers to rename the street outside China's Washington embassy in honour of the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 on a charge of "incitement to subversion of state power", based in part on his spearheading of Charter 08, a petition urging greater protection of human rights and democratic reforms in China. A diverse group of members of the US House of Representatives said that changing the name of a section of the road would embolden Chinese rights campaigners. "Liu Xiaobo is a man who has violated Chinese laws, he has been convicted by the Chinese judicial authorities," he added.
Afghan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani vowed Friday to sign a security pact with the United States within a week if he wins an upcoming run-off election. His pledge came only days after US President Barack Obama said the 32,000 American forces in Afghanistan will be scaled back to 9,800 by early 2015 and complete a full withdrawal by the end of 2016. "I'm committed to signing a bilateral security agreement within the first week of taking over," Ghani said, addressing an audience in Washington via Skype from the western Afghan city of Herat. "The reason is that our national security forces need assurances regarding our global partnerships and the resources both human and material that would come through the bilateral security agreement," Ghani told the Atlantic Council think-tank.
Residents of the Libyan capital complain the armed groups they hailed as liberators for toppling Moamer Kadhafi have become their oppressors as opposing alliances back rival governments in their struggle for power. A city that was ultra-safe during Kadhafi's four-decade dictatorship has become a place of fear, constantly on tenterhooks for a new eruption of fighting between the competing former rebel militias, many of them from outside Tripoli. The battle for control of Libya's oil and gas wealth has intensified as preparations step up for a June 25 general election with competing caretaker governments laying claim to power, one from the cabinet office, the other from a five-star hotel. One is backed by Islamists and militia from Libya's third city Misrata to the east.
By David Alexander and Mark Felsenthal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned on Friday following a meeting with President Barack Obama that came amid a firestorm of outrage over delays in medical care for U.S. veterans. Shortly after the private White House session, Obama announced to reporters that "with considerable regret, I accepted" Shinseki's resignation. The move came after a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as some veterans' groups, had called for his removal. Obama said he accepted the resignation of the soft-spoken, 71-year-old retired Army general after being briefed on the initial findings of the investigation into abuses that were initially found in Phoenix but later identified at other facilities across the country.
Thailand's junta chief on Friday ruled out elections for at least a year to have time for political "reforms", defending the recent military coup in the face of rising international alarm. "The (ruling military regime) have a timeframe of one year and three months to move towards elections," said army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha in a televised national address over a week after the army takeover. Only after this could elections be held. Thailand's military seized power on May 22 -- the 19th actual or attempted putsch in its modern history -- and set about rounding up scores of political figures, academics and activists.