All sides involved in the deadly conflict in the Central African Republic need to work together if the country is to get over the current gridlock, the president of neighbouring Chad said Friday. "The situation is at a stalemate," Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno said after a meeting with other leaders from the region at the sidelines of an African Union summit in Malabo. The Central African Republic has seen more than a year of unrest, with violence between mostly-Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and largely Christian anti-balaka militias leaving thousands dead and about a quarter of the almost 4.5 million population displaced. The country has been excluded from the AU's summits since the start of the crisis in 2013 -- but transitional president Catherine Samba Panza was invited to the latest meeting in Equatorial Guinea.
Moody's cut Russia's credit rating outlook to "negative" Friday, a sign of a possible coming downgrade, citing the threat to the Russian economy from its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Moody's held Russia's overall rating at Baa1, in the low range for investment-grade bonds. It said Russia's annual growth outlook has fallen to 1.7 percent for the next five years from previous forecasts of three percent. Moody's said it did not cut the country's sovereign rating because it does not see the current level of conflict in Ukraine further pressing Russian growth lower.
The EU's move to sign accords with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia is a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the tug-of-war over Moscow's ex-Soviet sphere of influence is far from over, say analysts. The association agreements have been met with barely concealed hostility in Russia, which will use every opportunity to undermine the three countries' EU integration while ensuring its own trade ties with Europe remain unaffected, the analysts told AFP. "Russia has many options to use the carrot and stick with these countries," said Maria Lipman of Carnegie Moscow Centre. Moscow argues the agreements threaten its domestic producers by allowing European goods to be re-exported from Ukraine through their less stringent customs channels.
The United States signaled Friday its intent to eliminate its stockpile of anti-personnel landmines and eventually join a global treaty banning them, boosting efforts to rid the world of the weapons. The high-profile announcement was made at a conference in Mozambique's capital Maputo aimed at ultimately ensuring no armed forces use anti-personnel mines by 2025. "The United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. In 2009, Washington said it was reviewing its position on landmines but -- along with rivals China and Russia -- has failed to sign the Ottawa Convention that bans the use of APLs and envisions their eventual elimination.
The US National Security Agency released its first "transparency report" Friday, as part of an effort to quell the firestorm over reports of its massive data collection efforts. The NSA report said that in 2013, it obtained fewer than 2,000 orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The agency said it obtained just one order using Section 702 of the FISA intelligence law, which facilitates gathering foreign intelligence data on non-American people, groups or organizations outside the United States. The NSA said it made 178 applications under the law's bulk collection or "business records" provision -- which allows the agency to sweep up vast amounts of telephone metadata.
The UN's top human rights body launched an investigation on Friday into widespread abuses in Eritrea, including extrajudicial executions, torture and forced military conscription that can last decades. "The human rights crisis in Eritrea has been forgotten for too long and the scale of violations is unparallelled, putting the country among the worst human rights situations worldwide," Somalia's representative to the UN in Geneva, Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari-Bari, told the council. The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution tabled by Somalia and France establishing a one-year special commission of inquiry into the situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa state. China, Pakistan, Venezuela and Russia refused to join the consensus, but the resolution passed without a vote, calling for the creation of a three-member investigation team to probe "all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea."
A Mexican military helicopter ventured around 100 yards (meters) into US territory and fired two shots, the US border security agency said Friday. The incident took place Thursday at 5:45 am (1245 GMT) when "a Mexican law enforcement helicopter crossed... north into Arizona," said a statement from US Customs and Border Protection. The Mexican helicopter was on "a law enforcement operation near the border," it added.
The US military is flying armed drones over Baghdad to defend American troops and diplomats in the Iraqi capital if necessary, officials said Friday. The move comes after the United States deployed 180 troops as military advisers in recent days to help the Iraqi government army fend off the advance of Sunni militants, who have captured territory north and west of the capital. The flights involved "a few" drones and were ordered as a precaution to safeguard Americans in Baghdad, for what the military calls "force protection," he said. The Pentagon acknowledged that among the manned and unmanned aircraft flying over Iraq to carry out surveillance, some were carrying bombs and missiles -- without specifying if those planes were drones.
Veteran Middle East diplomat Martin Indyk resigned Friday as the chief US negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians in a further sign of the collapse of the peace process. Less than a year after Secretary of State John Kerry tapped the high-profile envoy to guide a major US push for a peace deal, Indyk quit to return to a senior position at the Brookings Institution think tank. Indyk, who was born in Britain and raised in Australia, formerly worked for the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and took US citizenship in 1993 as he joined the administration of then-president Bill Clinton. Kerry put a top priority on reviving Middle East diplomacy and coaxed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas back to the negotiating table last July.
A sniper requested permission to shoot an armed man whose presence near world leaders attending the World Cup's June 12 opening game sparked a security scare, Brazilian officials said Friday. The man turned out to be a military police officer who had been sent to the restricted area at Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena unbeknownst to the civilian police, and no shot was fired, authorities said. President Dilma Rousseff and a dozen of world leaders were on hand for the opening ceremony and Brazil's 3-1 victory over Croatia, along with more than 60,000 fans. "A civilian police sniper detected the presence of someone carrying a gun and wearing a bulletproof military police vest in a restricted area," Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told a press conference.
President Barack Obama used a campaign-style speech in the American heartland Friday to blast his Republican opponents as feckless obstructionists in Congress, saying Washington's current gridlock "drives me nuts." Republicans have become so obsessed with blocking the Democratic president's every move that he has been forced to use his executive authority to advance priorities like pay fairness, Obama said, dismissing as a stunt a threatened Republican lawsuit against him. The White House and Republican congressional leaders, notably House Speaker John Boehner, have sparred repeatedly over Obama's use of executive orders, with Boehner warning this week that Americans "didn't elect a monarch or king." The top Republican in Congress announced Wednesday he would file a lawsuit against Obama because "the president has not faithfully executed the laws" of the nation.
France said Friday it would not dispute a ruling by Europe's top rights court forcing it to legally recognise children born to surrogates, a practice that is illegal in the country. Authorities in France had refused to register three children born to surrogates in the United States as the couples' legal offspring, a crucial move as it would secure them nationality and full inheritance rights. "It's a decision that we will not dispute.... The government will take into account these two judgements in its domestic law," Family Minister Laurence Rossignol told parliament. Dominique and Sylvie Mennesson and Francis and Monique Labassee turned to the ECHR in 2011 after a French court rejected their bid to have the children registered as their own.
The worst of the insurgency in Iraq is "over", a former general who commanded US Marines and British forces in the 2003 US-led invasion said Friday, in a rare note of optimism over the crisis. Speaking on the sidelines of the annual conference of Iran's exiled opposition -- in which he was a guest speaker -- General James Conway said the insurgents who have overrun major parts of Iraq were unlikely to make any further significant gains. The lightning offensive this month by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other militant groups has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced tens of thousands. Until now, ISIL has primarily made inroads in Sunni Arab areas in the north of Iraq, supported by Sunni militants that loathe current Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The European Union has filed a formal complaint against Russia at the WTO over Moscow's embargo on pork from the bloc, trade sources said Friday. In January, Russia banned imports of live pigs and pork from the EU after the discovery of two cases of African Swine Fever among wild boar in Poland and Lithuania. While members of the 160-economy World Trade Organisation are allowed to restrict trade on health grounds, Brussels maintains that the ban is totally misplaced.
European Union leaders sign historic association accords Friday with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as the three Soviet-era republics look to a future in Europe rather than with their old masters in Moscow. The association accords, plus free trade deals, offer the three countries increased economic and political ties with the 28-nation bloc which could ultimately lead to EU membership. Inevitably, it has turned into a tug of war, with Russian President Vladimir Putin pulling out all the stops to prevent Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova from signing up, even at the cost of damaging sanctions.