By Ian Simpson WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fifty U.S. senators urged the National Football League on Thursday to endorse a name change for the Washington Redskins, saying the franchise's name was a racial slur. In a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the lawmakers said the league should follow the example of the National Basketball Association, which has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for bigoted remarks. "Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did, that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports," wrote the senators, all of them Democrats or independents. "It's time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team." The letter adds pressure on Dan Snyder, the Redskins' main owner.
Pope Francis will hear first-hand accounts of the horrors of Syria's war when he meets refugees in Jordan Saturday as he begins a three-day visit to the Holy Land. Many pilgrims who will flock to see him there, and at an open-air mass in the capital Amman, want Francis to use his visit to make a strident call for peace across the border in Syria. "He needs to see the situation of Christians in Syria. "In the past we lived in harmony and coexistence, but now Syrian Christians are in danger," she said, reflecting the view of many Christians -- Roman Catholic and Orthodox -- who sided with Assad, fearing the harsh Islamist ideology of some rebel factions.
The Vatican's Secretary of State on Thursday defended the Palestinians' right to a "sovereign and independent" homeland and said he hoped Pope Francis's upcoming visit would lead to "courageous decisions" for peace. "We know that the pope is going to a particularly suffering land," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, whose role is equivalent to that of a prime minister, told Vatican television ahead of the pope's three-day visit starting on Saturday. "I really hope that the fruit will be to help politicians and all people of good will take courageous decisions on the path to peace," Parolin said in the interview, which was posted on the website of Vatican Radio. The pope travels to Jordan first on Saturday where he will meet Syrian refugees, then to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories on Sunday and on to Jerusalem where he will hold a prayer for Christian unity and visit holy sites.
Urumqi (China) (AFP) - Attackers killed at least 31 people Thursday when they ploughed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives in the capital of China's Xinjiang region, in what authorities called the latest "severe terrorist incident" to hit the Muslim Uighur homeland. More than 90 people were also wounded when two off-road vehicles drove into a crowd in Urumqi, with one of them exploding, the regional government's Tianshan web portal said, in an attack with echoes of a fiery car crash in Tiananmen Square last year. China has seen a series of incidents in recent months targeting civilians, sometimes far from Xinjiang itself, that authorities have blamed on separatists from the region. Pictures posted on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, showed victims lying in a tree-lined street, as others sat on flimsy stools.
One man was injured when Turkish riot police on Thursday fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse a group of Istanbul protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones. "I have been informed that police were attacked by Molotov cocktails and a 30-year-old man was injured," Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor of commercial hub Istanbul, told reporters. Dogan said police fired tear gas and water cannon at up to 20 protesters who denounced the death of a teenage boy who fell into a coma during anti-government unrest last year.
The US embassy urged Sudan on Thursday to respect freedom of expression, after state security agents arrested former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi for reportedly accusing a counter-insurgency unit of abuses. In a statement, the embassy expressed "deep concern" over the Saturday detention of Umma Party chief Mahdi. Observers have said Mahdi's arrest, by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), undermines talks launched by President Omar al-Bashir to find a way out of the multiple crises gripping the impoverished, war-torn country.
A coalition of rebel militias fought together to wrest control of the flashpoint town of Kidal from Mali's army, an African security source said Thursday, a day after it fell to armed separatists. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUC) claimed on Wednesday to have captured the bastion of the Tuareg separatist movement, slaying several soldiers. The source told AFP that the HCUC was the main force among "separate armed groups were involved in the fighting against the Malian army", adding that the MNLA and Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) also took part. Military operations against militant groups in Mali are complicated by the fact that fighters move between separatist and Islamist causes, while even the Malian army employs thousands of former Tuareg rebels.
Warring forces in South Sudan are continuing to block United Nations peacekeepers as the civil war that has devastated the young nation continues to rage, the UN said Thursday. The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said both government and rebels had blocked their patrols, including in the flashpoint oil-state of Unity, one of the areas hardest hit by fighting.
ROYAL WOOTTON BASSETT (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Scared stiff but with nowhere to hide, Ken Scott tried to block out the sight of his comrades being gunned down as he pushed up the Normandy beach on D-Day. Suppressed for many years, the memories are fresh in Scott's mind as he prepares to return to France next month for the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. As one of 130,000 Allied soldiers who landed in France on June 6th, 1944, he was part of an invasion that would turn the tide of World War II. Staring out the window of his bungalow in Royal Wootton Bassett, a small town in southern England, Scott is almost pleading, as if he is still trying to justify his survival.
Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) - Malawi's President Joyce Banda on Thursday called for an immediate manual audit of this week's election results, alleging serious irregularities after the electoral commission reported its vote tallying system had collapsed. "It has come to my attention that there (are) some serious irregularities in the counting and announcement of results in some parts of the country," she told reporters. Discarded and tampered ballots had also been discovered, said Banda who is facing her first electoral test since she succeeded her late processor Bingu wa Mutharika two years ago. "In light of these concerns and concerns emerging from other stakeholders which includes other political parties, I call upon the Malawi Electoral Commission to carry out an immediate manual audit of the whole process," she said.
The number of European Union immigrants to Britain increased last year, data showed on Thursday, as voters were expected to swing behind anti-immigration parties in the European elections. The Office for National Statistics said 201,000 EU citizens moved to Britain in the year ending December 2013, up from 158,000 a year earlier. This is the difference between the number of migrants leaving and arriving in Britain. The Conservatives had promised to reduce net migration to under 100,000 people by 2015 in their 2010 general election manifesto.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Armed security forces at a nuclear missile base failed a drill last summer that simulated the hostile takeover of a missile launch silo because they were unable to speedily regain control of the captured nuclear weapon, according to an internal Air Force review obtained by The Associated Press.