By David Alexander WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives rejected Pentagon cost-cutting proposals on Thursday with a $601 billion election-year defense policy bill that offered bigger military pay raises and blocked a politically tough bid to eliminate planes, ships and bases. The chamber voted 325-98 to pass the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which rejected Pentagon plans to save tens of billions of dollars over the next five years as the department tries to meet a congressional mandate to cut nearly $1 trillion in defense spending over a decade. Debate over the bill underscored the differences between Pentagon supporters reluctant to give up aging, proven weapons systems in the face of budget pressures, and those who warn that keeping the systems will deprive the military of funds it needs to maintain a balanced, well-trained and ready force. Representative Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, noted the panel had to make hard choices.
Russia lodged a furious protest with Britain on Thursday after Prince Charles reportedly compared President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, with Moscow saying the comments were unworthy of a king-in-waiting. The Russian deputy ambassador to London went to the Foreign Office for urgent talks following the reported remarks by the heir to the throne during a trip to Canada. Charles made the apparently unguarded comment, which drew a parallel between Hitler and Putin's actions in Ukraine, during a private conversation with a Polish-born woman on a trip to a museum.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called Thursday for a return to democracy in Thailand and said he was "extremely concerned" after the military seized power in a coup. Hague also urged tourists to follow travel advice after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha announced the putsch on live TV, following months of political unrest. "I am extremely concerned by today's coup," Hague said in a statement. Hague's statement echoed that of the European Union, which called for a "rapid" return to democracy, but did not go as far as French President Francois Hollande's condemnation.
South Africa's Reserve Bank slashed its growth forecast for this year and kept rates on hold Thursday, warning a prolonged mining strike could have a further "potentially devastating" impact on the economy. Painting a bleak picture of the state of Africa's most developed economy, Gill Marcus said growth was expected to slow to 2.1 percent this year, versus a previous forecast of 2.6 percent. She zeroed-in on a strike that has kept an estimated 80,000 platinum miners above ground for the last four months, refusing to return to work until they get a significant pay hike. "There is still no end in sight to the protracted strike in the platinum sector, and the economic and social costs are escalating and are potentially devastating," said Marcus.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill to end the government's bulk collection of telephone records cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday in the first legislative effort at surveillance reform since former contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the program a year ago. The measure, which passed 303-121, would end the National Security Agency's practice of gathering in bulk information on calls made by millions of Americans and storing them for at least five years. ...
A series of bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims, including by a suicide attacker disguised as a woman, killed 16 people in Baghdad Thursday despite heavy security across the capital. The blasts are the latest in a protracted surge of nationwide bloodshed that has left more than 3,600 people dead this year, fuelling fears Iraq is slipping back into the brutal communal bloodshed that blighted the country in 2006 and 2007. Three blasts -- two suicide bombings and a vehicle rigged with explosives -- targeted pilgrims who were preparing for commemorations for a revered figure in Shiite Islam. The worshippers -- many from elsewhere in the country -- were all walking from across the city to the district of Kadhimiyah, site of a shrine dedicated to Imam Musa Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam.
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - China and Russia vetoed Thursday a draft UN Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by both sides in the three-year civil war. Western powers pressed for the resolution in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria, including chemical attacks, systematic torture, barrel bombings and blocked aid access. It was the fourth time China and Russia have blocked Western resolutions on the conflict, paralyzing Security Council efforts to end a war estimated to have killed more than 160,000 people.
Thailand's military seized power on Thursday, removing the civilian government and suspending the constitution in an overthrow it said was aimed at ending months of deadly political turmoil. The kingdom has been wracked for years by political divisions between mostly rural, working class supporters of now-exiled populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and a royalist urban middle class, southerners and Bangkok-based elite who loathe him. Thaksin reshaped Thailand's political landscape by wooing voters in the rural north with policies such as cheap universal healthcare and micro-loans. Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office in a controversial court ruling earlier this month, angering her supporters.
Two suicide bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens more Thursday despite a heavy security deployment, Iraqi security and medical officials said. The evening attacks struck in Mansur, west Baghdad, and Baab al-Sharji, in the centre, as worshippers prepared to commemorate the death of a revered figure in Shiite Islam. The attacker was dressed in an all-black women's robe, or abaya, apparently to avoid attention, according to the capital's security spokesman, Brigadier General Saad Maan. The worshippers were walking to the northern neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah, site of a shrine dedicated to Imam Musa Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam.
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.