The United Nations has tripled its appeal for humanitarian funding for Iraq in 2014 to more than $312 million, with the country battling a fierce militant onslaught. "The funding is urgently needed to help one million people affected by the conflict, including in Mosul and Anbar," said Wednesday Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Speaking to journalists via video conference from Baghdad, UN special envoy for Iraq, Nikolay Mladenov, emphasized that in the country "over one million people have been displaced since January."
A man blew himself up in a Beirut hotel on Wednesday as security forces stormed his room, killing himself and wounding 10 other people, a senior Lebanese official said. An accomplice of the suicide bomber who was also in the room survived the blast, the official said. "When the security forces entered their hotel room, they blew themselves up by detonating the explosives beside them. Three of the other wounded were security personnel, military prosecutor Sakr Sakr said.
Pope Francis has by far the most clout of any world leader on Twitter because he is so widely retweeted, a study of political use of the social network showed on Wednesday. With 14 million followers for the nine different language versions of his @Pontifex account, the cyber-savvy pontiff boasts just a third of those notched up by US President Barack Obama. The real benchmark is tweets retweeted by followers to their own network. Pope Francis wins hands down, with his Spanish-language tweets retweeted more than 10,000 times on average, and his English-language tweets, over 6,400 times.
Iraq's food harvest is under threat with recent violence in the country driving more than a million people from their homes and farms, the UN's food agency said Wednesday. With the conflict hitting in two of the country's breadbasket states, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the country is "facing serious food security concerns". While Iraq's harvest had looked promising, "now, however, prevailing civil insecurity and associated access problems, labour shortages, and disruptions in transport and marketing are expected to significantly impact harvesting and domestic production and supply," the FAO said. The FAO is calling for $12.7 million (9.3 million euros) in emergency aid before August to provide "urgent support" to farmers, and to mitigate the damage to food, income and employment, the agency said in a statement.
The UN Security Council Wednesday opted to further downsize the number of peacekeepers in its Ivory Coast mission, which it said it will consider ending next year. The council adopted a resolution that extends the UN operation in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI, until the end of June 2015, by which time it will have decreased its uniformed personnel from 7,137 to 5,437 soldiers. The Council said it would review the mission's mandate and consider "its possible termination after the October 2015 presidential election." The decision would be made "based on security conditions on the ground and the capacity of the government of Cote d'Ivoire to take over UNOCI's security role."
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday he is preparing a lawsuit alleging that President Barack Obama has abused his executive authority by implementing policies without congressional approval. Boehner said the suit from the House of Representatives was aimed at protecting the rights of Congress under the constitution and said Obama was ignoring the laws that it passes. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the law," Boehner told reporters. He declined to say which actions taken by Obama would be challenged in the suit and denied that the action was aimed at impeachment proceedings against the president.
The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police must obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of a suspect, in a major civil liberties test in the smartphone age. Mobile phones deserve the same protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures" as other personal property -- for example homes -- enshrined in the US constitution's Fourth Amendment, the top US court said. The court, in two cases involving criminal suspects whose mobile handsets were searched by police, weighed the interest of law enforcement in finding important evidence against the civil liberties guaranteed in the constitution. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said that the principles of the US "Founding Fathers" still apply -- despite the advent of 21st century technology.
A fund for badly needed maintenance of the United States' vast but aging highways will fall short by September, authorities warned Wednesday, calling for a rise in fuel taxes to make up the coming deficit. "May Day," said Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer at a press conference. Washington does not manage highways directly but reimburses states for a part -- about 45 percent -- of their spending on construction and repair, including on bridges. The Highway Trust Fund, created in 1956, is financed by an 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.
More than 20 youth activists will go on trial on Sunday for taking part in an illegal protest, including the sister of a prominent figure from the 2011 uprising recently jailed over similar charges. After the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July, the authorities launched a harsh crackdown on the Islamist and secular opposition. In recent months, dozens of youth activists have been jailed for protesting illegally, after a law banning all but police-sanctioned rallies was adopted in November. They are charged with "protesting without authorisation, damaging public and private properties and blocking traffic," defence lawyer Mohamed Abdel Aziz told AFP.
If Russian lawmakers have their way, smoking for women under 40 will soon be banned, advertisement for condoms and pregnancy tests will be banished from the pages of mainstream media and using foreign words will result in a steep fine. One lawmaker with the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, recently proposed introducing official standards for footwear, charging that high heels and ballet flats were bad for women's health. A legislator from the ruling United Russia party, Elena Mizulina, has put forward so many controversial ideas including proposals to ban abortions and surrogate motherhood that Russians have launched an online petition calling for her sanity to be checked. "It is no secret that Elena Mizulina, chairperson of the State Duma's family issues committee is coming forward with increasingly absurd bills," said the petition signed by more than 100,000 people.
Tunisia's National Assembly approved Wednesday the proposed dates of parliamentary and presidential polls due to take place this year under a deal to end a political crisis. After months of negotiations among Tunisia's political parties, the assembly approved October 26 for the legislative election and November 23 for the first round of the presidential poll. We are pleased that the electoral calendar has been fixed, because it gives hope for the future of Tunisia," MP Mahmoud Baroudi told AFP. The elections would consolidate the gains of an accord in January to end months of political crisis, which had blocked the democratic transition in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
A car bomb in a Kurdish-majority neighbourhood of the ethnically mixed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed five people on Wednesday evening, security and medical officials said. Twenty more people were wounded by the blast in the northern part of the tinderbox oil hub, which lies at the heart of territory Iraq's Kurds want to incorporate into their autonomous region over the objections of Baghdad. While the federal government has not abandoned its opposition to Kurdish claims, Kurdish peshmerga forces are now responsible for its external security after the army abandoned its positions in the face of a Sunni Arab militant offensive led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
By Toni Clarke and Sharon Begley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House changes to proposed rules for tobacco products significantly weakened language detailing health risks from cigars and deleted restrictions that might have prevented online sales of e-cigarettes, published documents show. The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which analyzes the potential economic consequences of proposed regulations, deleted language in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recently proposed regulations describing how the rules would keep thousands of people from taking up cigar smoking and have enormous public health benefits. The OMB also weakened language detailing the FDA's concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes, according to documents published Tuesday in the Federal Register. Emily Cain, a spokeswoman for OMB, said that as with any rule, OMB's office of information and regulatory affairs conducted an interagency review process "to ensure that the regulations through which agencies implement policies are efficient, well-designed to achieve their objectives, and based upon the best available evidence." "It is routine for agencies to make changes to their draft rules during the course of OMB review," she added.