Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed a deal creating an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, with Ukraine conspicuously absent after it turned its back on Moscow. "Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are going over to a fundamentally new level of cooperation," Putin said at the signing ceremony in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas chose a prime minister to head a unity government on Thursday but announcement of the lineup was held up over the foreign affairs portfolio, officials said. Abbas sent a "letter of designation" to Rami Hamdallah, who is currently serving as premier within the West Bank-based government, an official in Ramallah said. "The government is ready, but there is only one problem, and that is that Fatah and Hamas reject Riyad al-Malki as foreign minister, something Abbas is insisting on," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Malki is a veteran diplomat who has served as foreign minister since 2007.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Setting the stage for upcoming restrictions on coal-fired power plants, the Obama administration is making a concerted effort to cast its energy policy as an economic success that is creating jobs, securing the nation against international upheavals and shifting energy use to cleaner sources.
By David Brunnstrom ANCHORAGE Alaska (Reuters) - - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday he will make decisions fairly soon about detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention center who Uruguay has offered to accept. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration wants to close the center in Cuba used to imprison people captured after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and has been talking to several countries about relocating inmates. Guantanamo, criticized by human rights groups, has prisoners that have been held for a decade or longer without being charged or given a trial. Opened by President George W. Bush in 2002 to hold suspects rounded up overseas, Guantanamo became a symbol of the excesses of his "war on terror." Hagel said he was taking his time in reaching a decision about six detainees Obama had discussed with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, as well as other detainees, in order to be sure that releasing them was the responsible thing to do.
International figures such as Kofi Annan and Hillary Clinton could get a say in who wins the Nobel Peace Prize, as a recent spat with China pushes Norway to spread responsibility for the award. Norway is still suffering the fall-out from the Nobel committee's decision to award the prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Although Norway's government had no say in the decision, China was furious.
Shinzo Abe will use a speech at an Asian defence forum this weekend to offer Japan as a counterweight to the growing might of China in a region increasingly riven by territorial disputes. The Japanese prime minister will tell the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue that Tokyo and its partner the United States stand ready to jointly bolster security cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported. He will stop short of singling out China, the paper added, but there will be little doubt about where he thinks the blame lies for the various escalating disputes in the South China Sea, and Japan's own battle with Beijing over East China Sea islands.
South Korea's ferry disaster has cast a heavy shadow over upcoming local elections, especially the key race for Seoul mayor -- a high-profile post seen as a possible springboard for the presidency. Surrounded by allegations of negligence, greed and incompetence, the sinking of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry triggered intense criticism of the government and President Park Geun-Hye whose ruling conservative Saenuri Party fears a backlash in the June 4 vote. Particular attention will be paid to the mayoral race in Seoul where the two main candidates for one of the most powerful jobs in the country present a timely study in contrasts. His main challenger, tycoon-turned-politician Chung Mong-Joon of the Saenuri Party, is a seven-term legislator and scion of the family that founded and controls the giant Hyundai conglomerate.
Papua New Guinea police on Thursday said an investigation into a riot at an Australian detention centre on Manus Island that left an asylum-seeker dead "stinks of a major cover-up". Deputy Commissioner Simon Kauba said the findings of the probe, carried out on behalf of the Australian government, "only hampers our on-going investigations into the riot" which also left 69 people injured in February. "Our investigations have been frustrated from day one with a complete lack of cooperation from all involved including (detention centre security firm) G4S employees as well as the asylum-seekers themselves," Kauba said in a statement.
By David Lawder, Roberta Rampton and Julia Edwards WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Calls for U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign grew louder on Wednesday as the agency's inspector general confirmed "systemic" and widespread VA scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for veterans' healthcare. The Department of Veterans Affairs' internal watchdog is probing manipulation of appointment data at 42 VA medical centers, up from 26 last week, it said in an interim report on allegations of secret waiting lists. The office said it has confirmed that "inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic" throughout the Veterans Health Administration. The report confirmed allegations that staff at VA medical facilities in Phoenix significantly understated months-long wait times for healthcare appointments for veterans.
California lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would require labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the second time in two years such legislation has failed to take hold in the state. Proponents of the bill had sought to make California the second state in the country after Vermont to require GMO labeling, but the measure failed to pass the state Senate by two votes. Democratic Senator Noreen Evans, the bill's author, was planning to push a reconsideration vote on Thursday before the end of the legislative session. The bill would require all distributors who sell food in California to label the product if any of the ingredients have been genetically engineered.