On the eve of a European vote, the Kremlin's closest EU-ally Bulgaria is torn between the bloc that provides it with vital investment or Russia, its deeply influential "big brother" and gas supplier. The European Union's poorest country knows that a new Cold War born from the Ukraine crisis could have a devastating impact on its fragile economy. Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, is equally vulnerable to a gas cut by Russia, with which Sofia shares economic and cultural ties, and to toughened sanctions by Brussels that would punish its giant neighbour. This has left Bulgaria's leaders, already politically fragile, in a difficult bind as they struggle to find the middle road that can satisfy both partners.
In a region marked by sectarian division, Israel is trying to bring its Christian Arab population on side in a move aimed at splitting them from their Muslim compatriots, experts say. This Israeli charm offensive has recently led to the army calling for the first time on Arab Christians to sign up for military service, and in a newly-passed law which formalises a distinction between Christian Arabs and Muslims. "We and the Christians have a lot in common," MP Yariv Levin said at the time. "They're our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within," said Levin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party which sponsored the bill.
The United States Wednesday welcomed hopes of better ties between India and Pakistan as Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi invited Pakistan's premier Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in, which the US said it will not attend. "Broadly speaking, we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders and other... leaders in the region," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. But she revealed that as in past years Washington was not planning to attend the inauguration set for Monday. "We don't have any plans to send a representative from the United States.
US Federal Reserve policy makers have begun focusing on how to manage monetary policy as they move toward raising interest rates next year and ending their six-year-old crisis stance. The minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) April 29-30 meeting showed Wednesday the policy makers launching into how they should prepare the ground for lifting the benchmark federal funds rate from near zero, expected in mid-2015. "Because the Federal Reserve has not previously tightened the stance of policy while holding a large balance sheet, most participants judged that the committee should consider a range of options and be prepared to adjust the mix of its policy tools as warranted." Fed officials discussed several approaches to policy when they raise short-term interest rates, but decided further study was needed.
The Senate Finance Committee easily approved the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell as U.S. health secretary on Wednesday, sending her candidacy to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote. In a show of congressional bipartisanship, eight Republican lawmakers joined 13 Democrats to back President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee its implementation of Obamacare, Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. Three Republicans opposed the nomination: Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota. Burwell, a 48-year-old technocrat known for being able to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, is also expected to see a smooth confirmation following two cordial Senate confirmation hearings.
Britain said Wednesday that Nigeria's deadliest ever bomb attack, which killed at least 118 people, would strengthen the international community's resolve to defeat terror in Africa's most populous nation. Islamist militant group Boko Haram was blamed for two car bombs that tore through a market in the central city of Jos on Tuesday, 20 minutes apart. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I condemn this cowardly, inhumane crime. Hague said the attack had underlined the importance of a meeting of African leaders on Nigeria that he attended in Paris last weekend, in the wake of the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram.
A double car bombing that killed at least 118 people in Jos, central Nigeria, was not just the country's deadliest bombing but an attack on a city that has seen more than a decade of unrest. Most of the violence in the religiously divided city and the wider state of Plateau has been linked to a long-running sectarian conflict between Christian farmers and Muslim herdsmen. But officials and experts said Tuesday's deadly strikes bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has previously targeted the city. In resuming attacks far from their northeastern base, Boko Haram may be trying to show its strength given increased international attention following its mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April, experts say.
President Barack Obama voiced outrage at an alleged cover-up of delays in treatment at US military hospitals on Wednesday, vowing to punish anyone guilty of wrongdoing in the scandal. Speaking after a meeting with Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama told reporters he would not tolerate any evidence of malpractice. "When I hear allegations of misconduct ...whether it's allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it," Obama said. Veterans have had to wait months to see a doctor at some hospitals, and allegations have arisen that administrators at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona covered up the delays there.
Ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has picked up 94.5 percent of votes cast abroad in Egypt's presidential election, officials said Wednesday, five days before polling opens in the North African country. The retired field marshal, riding a wave of popularity after he ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year, is widely expected to win the election that takes place in Egypt on May 26-27. In the ballots already cast abroad, Sisi won the backing of 296,628 expats in 124 countries during voting on May 15-19, electoral committee chief Abdel Aziz Salman told a news conference. Only 17,207 votes of the total 318,033 cast went to Sisi's sole rival, leftist leader and longtime opposition figure Hamdeen Sabbahi.
Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) - The majority Muslim island nation of the Comoros has banned a march over the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamic extremists, amid accusations the government wants to dodge religiously sensitive issues. The non-governmental Solidarity Association of the Indian Ocean Islands had appealed to the government to speak out on the kidnapping by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, but met a wall of silence. Boko Haram, whose name loosely translates as "Western education is forbidden", kidnapped the girls from their dormitory on April 14, has claimed they converted to Islam and has threatened to sell them. "No verse in the Koran, no religious principle justifies this kidnapping," said the rights group's Nasser Assoumani.
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - A visit set for Wednesday by a senior Fatah official to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to put the finishing touches on a Palestinian unity government has been postponed indefinitely, a Palestinian official said. Last month, Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, dominated by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party, signed a reconciliation deal aimed at ending years of political division. Under the terms of the deal, the two sides would form an "independent government" of technocrats, to be headed by Abbas, that would pave the way for long-delayed elections.