Tuareg militants killed several Malian soldiers during clashes in the rebel bastion of Kidal on Wednesday, a United Nations source told AFP, as the insurgents claimed to have taken control of the town. The fighting shattered an uneasy calm which had held since the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took 32 civil servants hostage during a battle which left eight Malian soldiers and 28 rebels dead. "The noise of gunfire has stopped... There are prisoners and deaths among the Malian army's ranks," a source from the MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, told AFP, adding that the rebels appeared to have the upper hand. Mohamed Ag Rhissa, one of the leaders of the separatist MNLA, told AFP by telephone his group had taken "control the whole town of Kidal", adding that "we have prisoners".
Shanghai (China) (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday oversaw a vast gas deal with China said to be worth $400 billion as the Ukraine crisis threatens Russian energy exports to Europe and his country faces Western sanctions. The signing in Shanghai was witnessed by Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Chinese energy giant CNPC, the country's largest oil and gas producer and a party to the contract. "This is another major milestone achievement in China-Russia strategic energy cooperation," CNPC said in a statement. Russia has been seeking more Asian markets, and its gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine are currently under threat because of unpaid bills by Kiev.
The UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday it has agreed with Iran five new transparency measures, including two concerning a long-stalled probe into Tehran's alleged past efforts to develop atomic weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran, which denies seeking or ever having sought nuclear weapons, has undertaken to provide information on the new steps "by August 25". The announcement comes after a fourth round of talks between Iran and six world powers in Vienna last week that both sides indicated made no progress towards a comprehensive deal over Tehran's nuclear programme.
South African President Jacob Zuma was elected for a second five-year term by parliament on Wednesday, as radical lawmakers shook up the normally staid proceedings. An attempt by the opposition to have Zuma declared unfit for office because of alleged graft that was deemed to be in conflict with the constitution was brushed aside and he was elected unopposed. Zuma, who heads liberation leader Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), had seen his personal image battered by a scandal over the spending of some $23 million dollars (17 million euros) of state funds on his rural home. The expected formality of the re-election was disturbed only by new lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who turned up at parliament in bright red overalls, red hardhats and Wellington boots.
Ukraine's glamorous but polarising ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko was triumphantly released from prison during the pro-Western uprising in Kiev but is now a longshot in Sunday's presidential ballot due to mistrust of the corruption-stained old guard. The most influential female politician to have emerged from the former Soviet Union appears to retain an unquenched thirst for office despite nearly three years behind bars on abuse of power charges drawn up by allies of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian who narrowly beat her in the 2010 vote and whose regime was toppled after bloody street fighting in February. Her desire to see Ukraine folded more tightly into Europe has won her the sympathies of such world leaders as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and successive administrations in the White House. Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to only confirm suspicions of Tymoshenko's most bitter detractors by describing his supposed rival in March as the one politician in Kiev with whom he could engage in "constructive work".
US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday threatened Russia with tougher sanctions if it undermines a crucial presidential election in Ukraine this weekend. "If Russia undermines these elections on Sunday, we must remain resolute in imposing greater costs," Biden told reporters in Bucharest after meeting with Romanian president Traian Basescu. The vice president's comments come ahead of his trip to Cyprus later Wednesday, a country belonging to the European Union reluctant to impose stronger sanctions on Moscow. "We need to ensure that Russia can no longer continue to use its energy resources as a weapon against anyone in the region", he stressed during a press briefing with Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
British politicians defended the right of Prince Charles to speak his mind on Wednesday after he reportedly compared the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine to those of Adolf Hitler. The heir to the throne made the apparently unguarded comment during a trip to a museum in Canada, in private conversation with a Polish-born woman who had fled the Nazis as a child. "I had finished showing him the exhibit and talked with him about my own family background and how I came to Canada," 78-year-old Marienne Ferguson told the Daily Mail newspaper. "The prince then said: 'And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler'."
Dutch police have arrested a 21-year-old man who fought in Syria as he was allegedly about to commit an armed robbery "to finance jihad", the public prosecutor said on Wednesday. The man spent six months in Syria last year "taking part in jihad" fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the prosecutor said in a statement. Spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP that he wanted the money "for the fight in Syria". More than 100 young Dutch citizens have so far travelled to Syria to fight against Assad's forces in the three-year conflict in which more than 162,000 people have died, according to NGO estimates.
Thousands of separatists rallied in Yemen's main southern city Aden Wednesday demanding renewed independence for the region on the 20th anniversary of a secession bid that was crushed by northern troops. The demonstrators waved the flag of the formerly independent south and pictures of exiled separatist leader Ali Salem al-Baid as they commemorated the short-lived Democratic Republic of Yemen that was crushed in the 1994 civil war. Southern leaders proclaimed their abortive breakaway state on May 21, 1994, just four years after the south merged with the north, ending 23 years of independence in a union that rapidly turned sour. The civil war ended with the occupation of the south by northern troops and the dismissal of thousands of southerners from their jobs, sowing grievances that have festered ever since.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday will meet with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at the White House for an update to the controversy involving delays in healthcare for military veterans. The White House said the meeting will include top Obama aide Rob Nabors, who is scheduled to travel to Phoenix later on Wednesday to visit the medical facility at the center of allegations and meet with veterans and their representatives. In coming days, Obama is expected to speak out about the allegations that doctors at the facility in Phoenix were ordered to put veterans' names for months on a secret waiting list until a spot opened up on an official list to make the waiting times appear shorter.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has no way of fully knowing which U.S. chemical facilities stock ammonium nitrate, the substance that exploded last year at a Texas fertilizer plant and killed 14 people, congressional investigators say. Outdated federal policies, poor information sharing with states and a raft of industry exemptions point to scant federal oversight, says a new report obtained by The Associated Press.
The rains have already come to Daldako, where Sudan's Rapid Support Forces are digging in. Troops from the controversial unit are on alert for rebel retaliation, two days after they say they seized this strategic area about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of South Kordofan's state capital Kadugli. Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) on Tuesday allowed journalists a rare visit to South Kordofan, where access is tightly restricted. Ethnic minority rebels have been fighting government forces for three years in a largely-hidden war which the UN says has affected more than one million people.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki would be granted more authority to fire or demote senior executives under a bill headed to the House floor. The measure comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to overhaul the beleaguered agency in response to allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths.
Syria's stocks of a key chemical used to produce the deadly nerve agent sarin have been destroyed, the mission overseeing the destruction of its chemical arsenal said. "Now 7.2 percent of Syria's chemical weapons material remains in country and awaits swift removal for onward destruction. Under a US-Russian deal negotiated last year, Syria signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to hand over its entire chemical weapons arsenal by June 30 of this year. Syria was not required to declare its stockpile of chlorine -- a toxic but weak agent -- as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.