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Man accused in La. death recent border-crosser

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Guatemalan immigrant accused of killing his girlfriend in Louisiana illegally crossed the Mexican border with his children last month and was released from custody after being issued a notice to report back to immigration authorities once he got settled in the United States, the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday.

Obama: No quick and easy solutions to foreign policy challenges

President Barack Obama, facing persistent criticism of his handling of foreign policy, counseled patience on Wednesday on meeting challenges from Iran to Ukraine to the Middle East. In brief remarks in the White House press briefing room, Obama appeared to push back against critics who feel he has failed to act decisively on a number of fronts. Obama announced new sanctions against Russia over its aggression towards Ukraine, said progress had been made but more time might be needed to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran, and said he was supporting efforts to reach a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.

UN force for C. Africa taking shape

A UN peacekeeping force for Central African Republic will begin deploying in two months, with some 2,500 troops joining African and French forces, UN and French officials said Wednesday. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Morocco have agreed to contribute three battalions to the new UN force, said France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud. The first contingents will begin arriving around September 15 and will beef up the 6,000 African troops serving in the African Union's MISCA force. The head of UN peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, said the new UN force will work to strengthen security at a "significantly superior" level than the current MISCA operation.

Obama, seeing Iran progress, hints at more time

US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward." Obama said he was consulting with Congress -- where there is strong criticism of his quest for a diplomatic deal with Iran -- as negotiators meet in Vienna ahead of Sunday's expiration of a temporary deal. "So over the next few days, we'll continue consulting with Congress and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations." - Iran has 'met its commitments' -

US, EU stiffen sanctions against Russia over Ukraine

The United States and Europe strengthened sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine Wednesday, with President Barack Obama taking his first direct swipes in the finance, military and energy sectors of the Russian economy. The American package of sanctions packed the most punch and drew an angry threat of serious retaliation from Moscow, further escalating the worst standoff since the Kremlin and the West since the Cold War. Europe and the United States acted after fighting between the Western-backed Kiev government and pro-Russian separatists took another dangerous turn, with 55 civilians killed since the weekend alone.

U.S. lawmakers, lawyers argue over House Republican plan to sue Obama

By Annika McGinnis WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican effort to sue President Barack Obama over his use of executive powers got under way in Congress on Wednesday at a hearing where lawmakers and constitutional law experts bickered over the move in a taste of the politicking to come. The House of Representatives' Rules Committee is expected to vote next week on a resolution authorizing a lawsuit centering on Obama's delays and other changes to his signature health insurance reform law, with a floor vote before the end of July. House Speaker John Boehner is pursuing the suit to protect Congress' rights from what he calls Obama's "king-like" overreach of executive authority in making unilateral moves to advance his agenda. Republicans argue that a prime example of this was Obama's decision last year to delay a mandate for larger firms to provide employees health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a law they have tried unsuccessfully to repeal for years.

Hamas agrees to five-hour Gaza ceasefire

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Hamas on Thursday agreed to join a temporary Gaza ceasefire requested by the United Nations on humanitarian grounds.

ECHR says Finnish marriage rules fair for transsexuals

A transsexual from Finland who said she was being compelled to convert her marriage to a civil partnership in order to be recognised as a woman had her case rejected by Europe's rights court on Wednesday. The woman, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2009, had complained that Finnish authorities had refused to recognise her as a woman on official documentation until she changed her marriage status. Judges at the Strasbourg-based court said civil partnerships in Finland offer legal protection for same-sex couples "almost identical to that of marriage." Heli Hamalainen, who brought the case, was born male in 1963 and married a woman in 1996.

Obama says Iran talks may need more time

Washington (AFP) - US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward."

Obama backs Egypt ceasefire efforts for Gaza

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, offering Washington's full diplomatic support. Obama said that while he and the world were "heartbroken" by the deaths of civilians in the Gaza Strip, US ally Israel had the "right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize" its population.

Obama Announces Expanded Sanctions Against Russia

The Obama administration is imposing new, deeper sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine, targeting Russian banks and energy and defense firms. “Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions,” President Obama announced during a brief statement in the White House briefing room on Wednesday. “I’ve repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine, that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a ceasefire, that Russia needs to pursue internationally mediate talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border -- I’ve made this clear directly to Mr. Putin,” he added.

Obama may extend high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran

Hunting for a badly needed second-term foreign policy victory, President Barack Obama strongly suggested on Wednesday that he will seek to extend negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program past their initial July 20 target date for a comprehensive deal.

Egypt truce failure gives Israel leeway in Gaza

Israel's acceptance of a short-lived Egyptian truce which was rejected by Hamas, has set the scene for a much broader operation in Gaza, including a limited ground incursion, analysts say. Although the ceasefire plan unveiled by Cairo did not lead to an end to the latest round of violence, Israel's agreement to hold its fire for six hours -- even as Hamas militants continued firing rockets over the border -- won it some room for manoeuvre. "In the eyes of the world, Israel took a risk and gave a real chance to a ceasefire, while Hamas chose to continue fighting. This gave Israel renewed credit, including credit to expand the operation," wrote Yoav Limor in pro-government freesheet Israel Hayom.

Violence, loophole drive C. American kids' exodus to US

The wave of Central American children making the risky journey to reach the United States is being driven by violence in their home countries and a loophole in US law, analysts say. The exodus of minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has become a humanitarian crisis and overwhelmed the United States' border patrol, shelters and immigration courts. At least 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been detained since October, says Washington, which predicts the figure will rise to 90,000 by the end of September -- up from 39,000 last year, 25,000 in 2012 and 16,000 in 2011.

Next stop Russia for those fleeing rebel-held Donetsk

When young mother Natasha woke up to find her quiet suburb suddenly on the frontline of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Moscow rebels -- she knew it was time to pack up her three kids and get out. Now they're waiting anxiously in line with over a hundred others, mainly women, children and elderly from around the main rebel-held city of Donetsk for a bus put on by the separatist authorities to ferry them across the border to Russia. "We left everything and fled in a hurry as they were bombarding the town," Natasha, a resident of the town of Krasnogorivka just outside Donetsk, told AFP. Kiev and the West blame Moscow for fuelling the fighting but those leaving the rebels' self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" say that joining the thousands of others who have already headed across the border into Russia is their only hope.

US health chief admits 'pattern' of safety failures

The chief of the US government's top public health agency acknowledged a pattern of safety errors Wednesday after dangerous mixups in the handling of influenza and anthrax. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged five incidents over the past decade -- two of them in recent months -- in which workers shipped anthrax, flu, botulism and a bacteria known as brucella to other labs without following proper de-activation and safety procedures. "I think we missed a critical pattern," CDC chief Tom Frieden said during two hours of questioning from the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. No one was believed to have been hurt by the mishaps, but they exposed a major lapse of protocol within the CDC, which is viewed globally as a leading scientific and health agency.

Egypt to try 163 Brotherhood members for murder

Egyptian prosecutors on Wednesday referred 163 alleged members of ousted president Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to trial on murder charges over protests in second city Alexandria, a judicial source said. Morsi's Islamist supporters have faced a sweeping police crackdown since his ouster by the army last July that has left more than 1,400 people dead and over 15,000 in jail. The 163 accused have been charged with the murder of 29 people and the attempted murder of others during clashes in the Mediterranean city.