United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that humanitarian access in Syria was worsening, blaming the government in particular but also armed rebels in a third report on the matter. Ban said Damascus was still stopping aid convoys from crossing into Syria from Iraq, Jordan and Turkey in violation of Security Council Resolution 2139 adopted in February. The Council is due to debate the report on May 29. For now, the 15 members have failed to reach an agreement with Russia providing diplomatic cover to Damascus.
Five months of fighting in South Sudan has cut the country's economically vital oil production by nearly 50 percent, the United States special envoy to the country said Thursday. "The conflict at this point has resulted in a reduction by almost half of oil output from South Sudan," Ambassador Donald Booth, special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, told African-based journalists in a conference call from Washington. Oil once generated hundreds of millions of dollars and provided 98 percent of revenue for the government of the impoverished South, which became independent from Sudan three years ago. South Sudan's oil is still exported through Sudanese pipelines.
Brasilia (Brazil) (AFP) - One of Brazil's top Catholic bishops has spoken out in favor of legal unions for homosexual couples, an apparent shift in the Church's stance on the country's existing gay-marriage policy. They need legal support from society," Leonardo Steiner, the secretary general of the National Confederation of Brazilian Bishops, said in an interview with O Globo newspaper published on its website Thursday. Brazil, home to the world's largest Catholic population, has allowed gay marriage since May 2013, when a court ruled clerks could not reject marriage applications from same-sex couples. At the time Brazil's bishops opposed the decision, but Steiner said the Church was constantly evolving.
US Attorney General Eric Holder announced a "sweeping" new Justice Department policy Thursday ordering federal agents to electronically record most statements made by suspects in custody. The policy change, affecting the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the US Marshals Service, will both help federal law enforcement investigations and protect defendants constitutional rights, Holder said. "Creating an electronic record will ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody," Holder said in a video message about the policy, which was detailed in a memo to US attorneys and will take effect July 11. The policy applies to all suspects in federal custody of the FBI, DEA, ATF or USMS after arrest, but prior to their initial appearance in court.
The WTO on Thursday upheld a European Union ban on imports of seal products, rejecting an appeal by Canada and Norway, in a landmark ruling that said animal welfare can trump trade. The World Trade Organization's appellate body said that Brussels did not breach the rules of global commerce when it imposed its ban in 2010. The global body has never before issued a final decision on how to square animal welfare with international trade regulations, and observers have said the case therefore marks a watershed.
Europeans have met US-EU negotiations for an ambitious transatlantic free trade zone with a wave of open hostility, but in the United States, the opposition has been muted. Like in Europe, fears have mounted among US activists over the broad scope of liberalization under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will cover rules on investment, trade, agriculture, health and the environment. "US media don't report much on trade generally, and haven't reported on the TTIP very much at all," said Celeste Drake, a trade specialist at the AFL-CIO labor union confederation. The proposed TPP trade deal, covering the United States and 11 other countries around the Pacific rim, raises more immediate concerns about how it will impact US companies and jobs.
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations blacklisted and imposed sanctions on Boko Haram as an Al-Qaeda-linked terror group Thursday, a month after it claimed the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. The designation, which was immediately welcomed by Britain and the United States, came into effect after no objections were raised by the Security Council's 15 members. The move subjects Boko Haram to UN sanctions, including an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban. The group, which was created 10 years ago, demands the creation of an Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.
He is Greece's best-known resistance hero and at the ripe age of 91, Manolis Glezos is gearing up for a European parliamentary comeback. The anti-austerity, radical leftist party Syriza is set to top the polls in Greece on Sunday with its lead candidate, former journalist Glezos, due to become the oldest European deputy in Brussels.
With 19 months to go until the deadline for a new, global pact on climate change, the United States' top negotiator cautioned Thursday against unrealistic expectations, saying the deal "won't be perfect". "It is important that our expectations be ambitious, and also grounded in reality," special envoy Todd Stern told journalists in Paris, where he met officials of the French government, who will host the 2015 meeting where the agreement must be signed. The UN is targeting a global warming limit of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. Negotiations were meant to yield a global pact on curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen in 2009, but that meeting ended in a political brawl.
The White House on Thursday was to unveil a postage stamp bearing the image of pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk, a San Francisco politician slain in office in 1978. Milk, who was among America's first openly gay elected officials and a member of San Francisco's board of supervisors, was gunned down, along with the city's mayor, by a political rival. The stamp in his honor was to be unveiled at a White House ceremony attended by gay rights leaders and various US public officials. Stuart Milk, who runs the foundation that bears his late uncle's name, said in a statement that the stamp has "incredibly special significance."
Lviv (Ukraine) (AFP) - The frontline is over 1,100 kilometres away. But in an upmarket pub in Ukraine's defiantly nationalist bastion of Lviv, the only topic of conversation is the bloody insurrection threatening the partition of their country. After their day's work is over, a group of friends settle down in the comfortable leather armchairs at the Royal Brewery in the centre of Lviv, Ukraine's cultural capital. "Those terrorists... they have attacked the National Guard in Donbass.
Leading Gulf monarchies are staunchly backing Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt's presidential frontrunner, in the hope that their generous financial help will bolster his campaign to crush the Muslim Brotherhood and indirectly secure their own regimes. "An absence of stability in Egypt means instability in the Gulf," says Emirati political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. Sisi "represents Egypt's only national institution that is capable of restoring stability" in his country, situated across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, he explains. Since the Sisi-led military ousted elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July, the new authorities banned his Muslim Brotherhood, arrested its leaders and cracked down on its followers in a campaign that has killed more than 1,400 people.