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30 new arrests as Israel presses West Bank hunt for teens

Israeli troops have arrested some 30 Palestinians in the West Bank as they ramped up a search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by Hamas, the army said on Thursday. The teenagers, two of them minors, disappeared from a popular hitchhiking spot in the sprawling southern West Bank Gush Etzion settlement bloc late on June 12. Israel accuses Hamas of the abductions and has launched a far-reaching military operation aimed at finding the teenagers and crushing the movement's infrastructure in the West Bank. It's absolutely certain," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Thursday briefing at a West Bank army base near Hebron.

Security tightened in Nigeria for key state vote

Police in Nigeria on Thursday threw a security cordon around southwestern Ekiti state, restricting movement and deploying riot squads to curb election-linked violence. A vote takes place on Saturday to elect a new governor, with incumbent John Kayode Fayemi, of the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), looking for re-election. The state has a history of election violence and last week, a party supporter was killed after an APC political rally in the state while dozens of others were injured. Nigeria's police chief Mohammed Abubakar has placed "an order banning movements in and out of Ekiti State with effect from 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) today (Thursday)," the force said in a statement.

Abacha theft case dropped as quid pro quo, says Nigeria

Nigeria said on Thursday that it had dropped a case against a son of Sani Abacha after the late military dictator's family withdrew a legal challenge in Europe. Liechtenstein said on Wednesday that it would return $227 million (167 million euros) to Nigeria, ending a protracted legal battle in the tiny European principality by four companies linked to Abacha's family. General Abacha, who died in office, is suspected of having looted Nigeria's central bank to the tune of $2.2 billion and the companies were ordered to pay back the cash in 2008. "As part of the negotiations to expedite the recovery of the funds, the Abachas agreed to discontinue their suit before the ECHR," Nigeria's finance ministry said in a statement.

APNewsBreak: Hemp seeds seized at US-Canada border

DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of pounds of industrial hemp seeds bound from Canada to Colorado have been seized by federal authorities in North Dakota, marking the latest bump along the road to legalization of marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin.

US slaps sanctions on Uganda over anti-gay laws

The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on Uganda including cancelling a military air exercise, visa bans and freezing some aid after Ugandan leaders brought in tough anti-gay laws. The new legislation signed into law in February "runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship," the White House said, as it announced the new steps. Ugandan officials involved in "human rights abuses" including against the gay community will be barred entry to the United States, national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. The US was also "cancelling plans to hold a US military-sponsored aviation exercise in Uganda," Hayden said in a statement.

Celebs dip into hard-fought Miss. Senate race

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre pitches his support for Sen. Thad Cochran in a new TV ad paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tunisia's Islamists seek 'consensual' presidential candidate

Tunisia's main Islamist party on Thursday urged politicians to agree on a "consensual" presidential candidate, to assuage tensions that have plagued the country since the 2011 revolution. "We call on political parties to find a consensual candidate for the presidency, someone independent or who belongs to a political party," said Ali Larayedh, a former premier and senior Ennahda member. Tunisia has been rocked by Islamist violence and political crises since the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, culminating with the assassination of two opposition politicians last year.

DC to suspend test scores in teacher evaluations

WASHINGTON (AP) — The District of Columbia school system won't include students' standardized test scores in teacher evaluations for the upcoming academic year as it adjusts to new tests that adhere to Common Core academic standards.

Kosovo PM condemns 'flower blockade' in flashpoint town

Kosovo's prime minister called on Thursday for the removal of a blockade of flower pots on a bridge linking ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica. That barricade, erected by Serbs in 2011, came to symbolise the community's angry refusal to merge with the rest of Kosovo following its declaration of independence in 2008. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci condemned what he called a "dangerous and illegal game" and said that "sooner or later" those responsible would face justice. Early on Wednesday, a bulldozer was brought in to shift the unsightly pile of earth and concrete blocks that lay across the main bridge over the Ibar river in Mitrovica.

Denmark's first 'real' mosque opens, bankrolled by Qatar

Denmark's largest purpose-built mosque, including the country's first minaret, opens on Thursday in Copenhagen's gritty northwest district after receiving a 150 million kroner (20.1 million euros, $27.2 million) endowment from Qatar. The longstanding political influence of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP), as well as the row over Prophet Mohammed cartoons that led to deadly protests in Muslim countries have strained relations between Denmark's largest religious minority and the majority population. After years of political wrangling and "not in my backyard" protests, Copenhagen's Muslim community is cheering the opening of the 6,700 square metre (72,118 square feet) complex that will house a mosque, a cultural centre, a television studio and a fitness centre. But sandwiched between a car dealership and a self storage firm in a low income district, it is not quite the symbol of mainstream acceptance that many of Denmark's 200,000 Muslims had hoped for.

U.S. drops sanctions on Colombia drug cartel

The United States on Thursday dropped almost all remaining sanctions on the Colombian Cali drug cartel in the single largest delisting in the history of the U.S. sanctions programs. The Treasury Department said the action was taken following the sanctions-related financial collapse of the Colombia-based Cali cartel, in its heyday the world's most powerful drug trafficking organization. "Today's action demonstrates the successful use of targeted sanctions, which have destroyed the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers' business empire," Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement. The two brothers were the leaders of the Cali cartel and are the only two who remain on the sanctions list as Colombian authorities finish confiscating all their assets.

Merkel backs Juncker but hints ready to reach out to Britain

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated support for Jean-Claude Juncker as the European Commission's next head Thursday but indicated a willingness to consider concessions to Britain, which opposes him. Merkel told a joint press conference with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt that Germany supported the former Luxembourg prime minister for the job. That doesn't mean that one can fulfill all wishes, but it means that elsewhere one perhaps can think about what is very important for Britain," Merkel said. She added that she was ready to talk "very constructively" with Britain about issues such as reducing bureaucracy or what issues should be decided by Europe or by nation states.

Fighting hits water supply in east Ukraine city

Donetsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Up to one million people face water shortages in eastern Ukraine as workers battle to repair pipes damaged by fighting in rebel-held Donetsk, a city spokesman said on Thursday. "Today the water supply is limited and a full supply is being provided only at certain times," Maxim Rovinsky, spokesman for Donetsk mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, told AFP.

Ukraine's first female central banker embraces IMF

Ukraine's first female central bank governor will need every degree of the trust she enjoys in Western financial circles to steer the corruption-stained country from the verge of bankruptcy. Valeria Gontareva won easy parliamentary confirmation on Thursday to what some see as Ukraine's most thankless job. The 49-year-old capital markets expert worked for most of the past two decades in the upper echelons of Kiev's branches of Amsterdam-based ING Bank and France's Societe Generale. She began her career in 1993 as the chief economist on Kiev's Interbank Currency Exchange -- the beacon of a new free market thinking that was just emerging from the ruins of the communist Soviet empire.

Obama: US ready for 'precise' military action in Iraq

US President Barack Obama on Thursday said he was ready to send 300 military advisors to Iraq and if necessary to take "targeted" and "precise" military action to counter radical Sunni fighters. Obama said Washington was ready to deploy advisors to study how to train and equip Iraqi forces and had already increased its surveillance and intelligence capabilities in the country. Obama said it was a good investment for Washington to intervene in Iraq if it prevented Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters establishing bases which could eventually pose a threat to the West. But he repeatedly insisted US troops would not be going back in to direct combat in Iraq, two-and-a-half years after the last American soldier came home from the war.

Finland plans 1.1-bn-euro stimulus package

Finland announced Thursday plans for a 1.1-billion-euro ($1.5-billion) stimulus package, including a mix of new spending and lower taxes, meant to revive its recession-hit economy. The plan was announced by the five parties currently negotiating the creation of a new government led by conservative Alexander Stubb. Stubb will replace Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, known for pursuing austerity measures, who resigned on Monday. "We have done what was needed and, if we have to do more, we'll continue with our work, in order to give Finland a new impulse," Stubb said at a press conference in Helsinki.

Iraqis, Saudis call shots in Raqa, ISIL's Syrian 'capital'

With Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters, flags and emblems everywhere, there is no mistaking who controls the north Syria city of Raqa. Fighters from ISIL, the jihadist group that is now spearheading an offensive in Iraq, already regard the city that is strategically placed in the Euphrates valley as their "capital", activists say.

Five Hamas militants killed in Gaza tunnel collapse

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Six Palestinians, five of them Hamas militants, were killed after an explosion caused the collapse of a tunnel under the Israeli border on Thursday, Palestinian officials said. "Five people were martyred during resistance activity in Saghira neighbourhood" in eastern Gaza City, the local Hamas information office said of the members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, without elaborating. A spokesman for Gaza's health services, Ashraf al-Qudra, said that a member of the emergency crew dispatched to the tunnel died of suffocation and four others were injured. Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, formally relinquished power over it on June 2 when Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas appointed a government of independents under a unity agreement.

Britain bans ISIL, other Syria-related groups

The British government on Thursday banned the ISIL militant group currently cutting a swathe through northern Iraq, adding it to a list of proscribed organisations along with four other groups linked to the Syrian conflict. Security Minister James Brokenshire told lawmakers that terrorism related to the civil war in Syria "will pose a threat to the UK for the forseeable future", and said banning the groups sent a "strong message". It is now an offence in Britain to belong or invite support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the four other proscribed groups, or even to wear clothing or carry items in public indicating support. After taking hold in Syria, where it is one of numerous groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime, ISIL is leading an offensive that has seized Iraq's second largest city Mosul and a swathe of territory north of Baghdad.