(Reuters) - Virginia's Republican-controlled legislature passed a two-year budget late on Thursday that shot down the Democratic governor's proposal to expand Medicaid and closed a $1.55 billion revenue shortfall. Expanding Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people, to about 400,000 Virginians under the federal Affordable Care Act had been Governor Terry McAuliffe's chief legislative priority. McAuliffe, in a stand-off for months with Republicans, had linked the budget to Medicaid expansion. "But this fight is far from over." The Affordable Care Act, launched in October and also known as Obamacare, is designed to extend health coverage to uninsured Americans through subsidized private health insurance and by expanding Medicaid coverage.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Friday Iraqi security forces have begun clearing cities of "terrorists," after militants seized swathes of territory and brought the military to the brink of collapse. Security forces "began their work to clear all our dear cities from these terrorists," Maliki said in a statement, without giving details of where or when operations had started. A major militant offensive, spearheaded by powerful jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has overrun all of one province and chunks of three more since Monday. Security forces have so far failed to halt the push, with some abandoning their vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms.
Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Qatar is stepping in temporarily to help the new Palestinian unity government pay former employees of Islamist movement Hamas's disbanded Gaza government, an official said Friday. The Gulf state said it would contribute a total of $60 million (44 million euros) while the Palestinian Authority grapples with a pay row, the first challenge for a government formed to try to end years of Palestinian rivalry. Prime minister Rami Hamdallah "received a phone call from the Qatari prime minister (Sheikh Abdullah bin Naser bin Khalifa al-Thani), who told him that $20 million would be transferred each month for three months to pay Gaza employees," government spokesman Ihab Bseiso said in a statement.
Turkey received prior warning of the attack on its consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Friday, defending Ankara's decision not to evacuate. Arinc told reporters that the Turkish government had made contact by telephone with the hostages and they had "not been exposed to any bad treatment." On Wednesday, militants from the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including diplomats, guards and children. Turkey had decided not to evacuate the building as they judged the security situation outside was worse.
As interest in the girls' plight tails off after a viral social media campaign and street protests, Nigeria's government is facing mounting pressure over its failure to stop Boko Haram's relentless violence. On the streets, ordinary Nigerians -- awakened to the wider Boko Haram insurgency because of the abduction -- have begun expressing doubts about their leaders' ability to end the bloodshed. Nigeria's media had previously relegated Boko Haram down the news agenda but its activities began moving to the front page even before the mass kidnapping on April 14. "We were optimistic that they (the girls) were alive but right now that hope is fading... because the government and the international community seem powerless.
Venice's mayor Giorgio Orsoni resigned Friday amid a sweeping corruption investigation into a multi-billion-euro flood barrier project to save the island city from rising sea levels. The left-wing mayor stepped down a day after being released from house arrest after accepting a four-month prison sentence in a plea agreement, for benefiting from illegal party financing during his 2010 city election campaign. Orsoni had been arrested along with nine other politicians and business leaders in a fraud investigation involving around 100 people, including a retired top police general.
Fitch ratings agency on Friday revised the outlook on South Africa to negative from stable and affirmed its credit rating at 'BBB', near the bottom of the investment-grade scale. The ratings agency said the outlook revision was partly due to a strike at platinum mines, the country's longest-ever mining stoppages that began in January when workers downed tools. On Thursday, the world's three top platinum producers -- Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin -- said they had "in principle" reached a deal to end the 21-week deadlock over pay. Fitch said South Africa's outlook for growth had deteriorated after a 0.6-percent contraction in the first quarter of this year, and it revised its 2014 GDP growth forecast down to 1.7 percent from the 2.8 percent that it issued during the last country review in December 2013.
The UN's human rights chief on Friday condemned reports of summary executions and extrajudicial killings in Iraq amid fears of mounting abuses by jihadists as they advance across the north of the country. "The High Commissioner Navi Pillay is expressing extreme alarm at the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Iraq," Rupert Colville, her spokesman, told reporters in Geneva. The rights chief was especially concerned by verified reports of "summary executions and extrajudicial killings and the massive displacement of an additional half a million people" by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), he added. According to the UN mission in Iraq, "the number of people killed in recent days may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded is said to be approaching one thousand," Colville said.
Karbala (Iraq) (AFP) - Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called Friday for Iraqis to take up arms against "terrorists" who have overrun swathes of the country in a major offensive. "Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose," his representative announced on his behalf during Friday prayers in the city of Karbala. An offensive launched by the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its allies late Monday has overrun all of one province and chunks of three more.