Ecuadoran lawmakers proposed constitutional amendments to allow unlimited presidential terms, following a request from incumbent Rafael Correa. National Assembly President Gabriela Rivadeneira, a member of Correa's ruling PAIS Alliance party, presented the list of 17 amendments. "Ecuadoran society demands we, as legislative representatives, have a constitution in accord with the development of the new homeland," Rivadeneira said, referring to the initiative requested by Correa, a prominent figure of Latin America's far left. The constitutional court has 45 days to rule on the initiative, which also aims to lower the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 35 to 30.
A federal judge upheld gun laws on Thursday introduced by Colorado in the wake of deadly shooting rampages there and in Connecticut, dismissing a lawsuit brought by sheriffs, gun shops, outfitters and shooting ranges. The two laws, passed in 2013 by Colorado's Democratic-controlled legislature with scant Republican support, banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and required background checks for all private gun sales and transfers. After a two-week civil trial, U.S. District Chief Judge Marcia Krieger ruled the lawsuit lacked standing and said no evidence had been produced which showed limiting magazines to 15 rounds seriously diminished the ability to defend oneself. Responding to complaints about expanded background checks, she said there were more than 600 firearms dealers in the state which actively perform private checks, and that it takes an average of less than 15 minutes for a check to be run by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
European leaders meet in Brussels on Friday facing a damaging row over Jean-Claude Juncker's likely nomination as European Commission president which has left Britain isolated and angry. Although Juncker's appointment is expected to be confirmed at the summit, Prime Minister David Cameron will force an unprecedented vote on the issue, playing out in public major disagreements about the EU's future. While leaders could try and appease Cameron by offering London a top job in Brussels, the dispute threatens to fuel eurosceptic sentiment in Britain before a referendum on leaving the EU slated for 2017.
Known for his love of fine but healthy food, President Barack Obama is deploying chefs -- including his own -- to Asia in hopes of bringing food tourists to the United States. The five chefs will take part in Independence Day celebrations on July 4 in a bid to promote both US agriculture produce and regional cuisine, a stretch from the diet of hamburgers and pizza that much of the world associates with the United States. The White House personal chef Sam Kass, an advocate of organic food who also directs First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program aimed at fighting childhood obesity, will appear at the event in Seoul. Four other members of "the American Chefs Corps" -- who cook in high-end restaurants in Austin, Boston, Chicago and New Orleans -- will take part in events in Beijing, Canberra, Taipei and Tokyo, the State Department said.
Howard Baker, a former Senate majority leader and presidential contender known for his ability to achieve compromise across the political aisle, died on Thursday. Baker became the first Republican leader of the Senate in 26 years when he took the reins in 1981. He later went on to serve as chief of staff for president Ronald Reagan, to whom he lost the Republican nomination in 1980. Current Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took to the Senate floor to announce Baker's death, hailed him as "one of the Senate's most towering figures."
By Elvina Nawaguna WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration said on Thursday it would tap Treasury funds to bolster the construction of affordable rental housing and extend the life of a program aimed at helping homeowners avoid foreclosure. The announcement by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Making Home Affordable program, an Obama administration initiative launched at the height of the economic crisis in 2009 to revitalize the housing sector and curb runaway foreclosures. According to Treasury Department, more than 1.3 million homeowners have modified their mortgages under the program, reducing monthly payments by about $540 a month. Lew also said the administration would use money from the Treasury Department's Federal Financing Bank to help housing finance agencies fund the construction of more affordable rental housing.
The White House asked lawmakers Thursday for $500 million to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, in what would be a significant escalation of US involvement in a conflict that has spilled into Iraq. Following several signals in recent weeks by President Barack Obama's administration -- and months of pressure from lawmakers like Senator John McCain -- the White House said it intends to "ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition." The request is part of a $1.5 billion Regional Stabilization Initiative to bolster stability in Syrian neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and to support communities hosting refugees. The proposed funding would serve "vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement," the White House said in a statement.
Australians Richard Laslett and Collin Gunther waited 37 years to say "I do" to one another. The couple finally got their chance on Thursday in Toronto, at a mass wedding that brought 115 gay and lesbian couples together, as part of the city's World Pride Week. The pairs from around the world gathered in the garden of a midtown Neo-Gothic castle to "celebrate the power of love," Toronto interim Mayor Norm Kelly said. "You settle into a relationship," added Laslett.
The United States removed Swaziland from a lucrative trade pact Thursday due to concerns over workers' rights, as it allowed Madagascar back in after the island restored democracy. President Barack Obama pointed to Swaziland's use of force against demonstrations and lack of recognition of labor unions as he removed the impoverished kingdom from the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, which offers preferential access to the US market for goods from some 40 sub-Saharan nations that meet political and economic standards. US Trade Representative Michael Froman said Washington hoped to work with Swaziland on improving conditions so it could return to AGOA. "The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly," Froman said in a statement.
Argentina moved a step closer to defaulting on its debt Thursday after a US federal judge refused to freeze an order for it to pay off hedge funds holding $1.3 billion in bonds. Argentina though continued to negotiate with the hedge funds to avoid being forced into default, pledging to make good on its debts
By David Alexander WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House sent Congress a 2015 war-funding request on Thursday of nearly $60 billion, a drop of $20 billion from the current fiscal year after President Barack Obama decided to withdraw all but 9,800 troops from Afghanistan by Dec. 31. Obama, in a letter to the House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, asked for $58.6 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas military activity, the smallest Pentagon war-funding request in a decade. ...
At least two people were killed and 26 injured on Thursday when celebrations to mark Madagascar's independence triggered a stadium stampede. "There are two dead and 26 injured," Jean Claude Razafimahandry, a hospital director, told AFP. He said the rush was caused by "overcrowding at the entrance of the Mahamasina stadium" in the capital Antananarivo. Madagascar, which recently returned to democracy following a coup in 2009, was celebrating 54 years since its independence from France.
Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant bolstered their presence Thursday in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the move came a day after members in the town of Al-Qaeda's franchise in Syria, Al-Nusra Front, pledged loyalty to ISIL, giving it control over both sides of the frontier. ISIL, which aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria, has spearheaded a lightning jihadist offensive that has already captured swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad. Pro-ISIL militants posted videos on YouTube showing a convoy of cars and trucks entering Albu Kamal and flying the jihadists' black flag.