By Kathy Finn and Jonathan Kaminsky NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Disgraced former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was set to be sentenced by a federal judge on Wednesday on 20 corruption charges that could land him in prison for two decades. A jury in February found Nagin guilty of charges that include bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion, all in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Nagin stirred national controversy with his erratic behavior after Katrina in 2005 breached floodwalls and inundated New Orleans, killing at least 1,500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Prosecutors have asked for a stiff sentence of about 20 years, while Nagin's attorney, citing his lack of a criminal record, has urged leniency.
Iraqi security forces found the bodies Wednesday of 53 men who had been bound and executed in a confessionally mixed province south of the capital, police and medical officials said. The men were found in orchards south of Babil provincial capital Hilla, all with gunshots to the head or chest, in killings reminiscent of the brutal sectarian bloodshed that gripped Iraq in 2006-7. Although attacks have taken place in Babil province during a jihadist-led offensive that overran swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad last month, the area where the bodies were found was not close to the sites of other recent violence. North of Hilla is a deeply divided region that earned the monicker Triangle of Death for the ferocity of its sectarian violence in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared by 24 percent in the first half of 2014, according to UN figures released Wednesday, revealing worsening nationwide violence as US-led troops leave after more than a decade fighting the Taliban. The rapid increase in civilian casualties underlines the fragile security situation that Afghanistan faces as it wrestles with political turmoil over the disputed presidential election. One candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, has refused to accept the result due to alleged fraud, and fears are growing of ethnic tension and the risk of clashes between rival supporters reviving the divisions of the 1992-1996 civil war. "The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas," warned Jan Kubis, the United Nations mission chief in Afghanistan.
By Lesley Wroughton and Michael Martina BEIJING (Reuters) - China and the United States need to manage their differences, the leaders of both countries said on Wednesday at the start of annual talks expected to focus on cyber-security, maritime disputes, the Chinese currency and an investment treaty. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew chair the U.S. delegation, with Vice Premier Wang Yang and top diplomat Yang Jiechi leading the Chinese side. "We should mutually respect and treat each other equally, and respect the others sovereignty and territorial integrity and respect each others choice on the path of development." Escalating tensions between China and some countries in the South China Sea and with Japan in the East China Sea as well as U.S. charges over hacking and Internet spying have provoked ire on both sides of the Pacific in recent months. In a statement released as the discussions began, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States was committed to building a "new model" of relations with China that is defined by cooperation and the constructive management of differences.
WASHINGTON (AP) — By its own estimate, the government made about $100 billion in payments last year to people who may not have been entitled to receive them — tax credits to families that didn't qualify, unemployment benefits to people who had jobs and medical payments for treatments that might not have been necessary.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main exiled opposition group seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday elected Saudi-based Syrian opposition figure Hadi el-Bahra as its new president. "Hadi el-Bahra was elected president of the coalition with 62 votes," the coalition said in a statement on its Facebook page after the early morning vote at the meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sile outside Istanbul in Turkey. His nearest rival, Mowafaq Nayrabiyeh, won 41 votes, it added. He succeeds Ahmad Jarba, who headed the coalition from July 2013 but failed in efforts to unite the opposition and obtain significant Western military support.
The Bank of England is again set to leave its key interest rate at a record low of 0.50 percent Thursday after it launched measures to cool Britain's housing market. The BoE is forecast also to leave its level of cash stimulus, or quantitative easing, pumping around the economy at Â£375 billion ($642 billion, 472 billion euros). This week's meeting of the bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) "seems unlikely to be a major step towards higher interest rates", said Samuel Tombs, senior economist at Capital Economics consultants.
South Sudan marks its third anniversary of independence on Wednesday, with civil war raging, the young nation divided by ethnic atrocities and on the brink of famine. The streets of the capital have been lined with banners proclaiming "One People, One Nation", with the government of President Salva Kiir due to put on a show of force with a military parade and speeches delivered to celebrate the breakaway from the repressive government in Khartoum. South Sudan has been wracked by war since mid-December, when presidential guards loyal to Kiir clashed with troops supporting ousted vice-president Riek Machar, who fled to the bush and rallied a huge rebel army.
Australia's immigration minister arrived in Colombo early Wednesday as a group of Sri Lankan migrants controversially turned back by Canberra at sea said they were treated worse than dogs. Minister Scott Morrison was to join President Mahinda Rajapakse at the formal commissioning of two refurbished boats Australia gifted in November to tackle people smuggling, an official said. "The President and the visiting minister will be at the commissioning of the two boats at the Colombo harbour," an official of the president's office said ahead of the ceremony. It comes a day after a boatload of 41 Sri Lankans forced back by Canberra said they were abused, given little food and water and taunted with racial abuse.
By Steve Holland DENVER (Reuters) - A man shouted "get that man a beer" and sure enough, President Barack Obama soon had a cold pint in his hand and prepared to play billiards with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. This Tuesday night out on the town in Denver, which included slices of pizza with a group of people who had written to him, was Obama's way of escaping the confines of Washington, where partisan gridlock reigns supreme. It was a case of "the bear is loose," the president's own description of the times when he is able to break free of the trappings of Washington and experience what everyday Americans see. Shaking hands with dozens of bystanders along a Denver street, the "bear" came face-to-face with a person wearing a horse's head mask, in honor of the Denver Broncos NFL football team.
Republican Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst attempted Tuesday night to walk back statements made at a January event in which she said President Barack Obama had “become a dictator” who should be “removed from office” or face “impeachment.” In a statement provided to Yahoo News, reacting to a story published earlier Tuesday, Ernst said that she did not believe Obama is a dictator but rather “his repeated use of unilateral action sure makes him look like one.” “To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the President should be impeached,” the statement read.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints — including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday urged rebel chief Riek Machar to restart talks to end a raging civil war between their forces that has driven the country to the brink of famine. "Even if Riek Machar's forces still continue attacking our forces, I still renew my call for him to accept the logic of peaceful resolution," Kiir told crowds at celebrations to mark three years of independence. South Sudan has been wracked by war since mid-December, when presidential guards loyal to Kiir clashed with troops supporting Machar, who fled to the bush and rallied a huge rebel army. Three ceasefire deals have failed to stick, and peace talks in luxury hotels in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa have made little progress.
Hundreds of tonnes of chemicals "likely" to have been used by Syria to make the deadly nerve gas sarin were exported by British firms in the 1980s, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday. Hague said the chemicals, which can be used legitimately for making plastics and pharmaceuticals, were exported by unnamed British companies to Syria between 1983 and 1986. "We judge it likely that these chemical exports by UK companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin," he added.