Iraqi security forces readied a counter-offensive against militants north of Baghdad on Saturday, an army colonel said, after the prime minister announced the cabinet granted him "unlimited powers." The colonel from the military command responsible for Samarra, a city 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital, said reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday. The officer said the reinforcements were for a drive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that militants seized in a spectacular assault this week. Security forces were awaiting orders to begin, the colonel said.
The Philippines said on Saturday it had filed a protest with Beijing for reclaiming land on a disputed South China Sea reef, the fourth such complaint in three months. The new protest over reclamation at the McKeenan Reef in the Spratly Islands chain further heats up an increasingly tense dispute over the waters where China has been accused of using bullying tactics against other claimants. He did not say if China had responded. The Philippines previously filed an objection against China in April after monitoring large-scale reclamation and earth-moving activity on Johnson South Reef, which it said might be intended to turn the tiny outcrop into an island with an airstrip.
Crouched on bunk beds in the narrow cells of the Regina Coeli lockup in Rome, prisoners say Italy still has a long way to go to ease a chronic overcrowding problem condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Italy was given 12 months by the Strasbourg court last year to improve cramped living conditions it said "violate basic human rights", but despite efforts at reform the deadline passed last week and the country's jails still exceed capacity by 15,000 inmates. Last January, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the government to pay 100,000 euros ($135,450) to seven prisoners who brought the so-called Torreggiani case over their living conditions. Antonio, a Spanish father-of-one caught smuggling hashish into Italy, praised new measures brought it to cut jailbird numbers, including relaxing penalties for selling or possessing cannabis.
The head of the State Department's office in charge of energy diplomacy will step down in August after playing a key role in getting countries such as China, India and Japan to cooperate with Western sanctions on Iran, officials said on Friday. Carlos Pascual became an important player in Washington's effort to place tough new sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program soon after the bureau of energy resources was launched in 2011. The State Department said Pascual had decided to return to private life. The sanctions have halved Iran's oil sales since mid-2012 in efforts by the Washington and the European Union to cut funding to the country's nuclear program.