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West African experts call for drugs decriminalisation

A panel of experts called Thursday for minor drugs offences to be decriminalised in west Africa, where trafficking, consumption and production is undermining development and causing a public health crisis. The West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) said current policies were fuelling corruption in a region where the cocaine trade alone, estimated at $1.25 billion (920 million euros) a year, dwarfs the combined budgets of several countries. "We call on west African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalise low-level and non-violent drug offences," commission chairman Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, told reporters in Dakar. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production.

Obama: Iraq will need additional US assistance

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday that Iraq will need more help from the United States as it seeks to push back a violent Islamic insurgency that has captured two key cities and threatens to press toward Bagdad.

Bergdahl’s Letters From a Taliban Prison

In a pair of letters, the captured U.S. soldier asks his government to reserve judgment about his disappearance—and complains about the officers leading his unit in Afghanistan.

European Bank seeks to finance Zimbabwe business

The European Investment Bank said Thursday it was considering funding private businesses in Zimbabwe despite Harare's $300 million debt to the institution. "We are here to explore the possibilities to reengage activities in Zimbabwe. We see possibilities with the private sector," said Diederick Zambon, who heads the banks division for southern Africa and Indian Ocean. He told journalists that the private sector was "the backbone of the economy" and crucial to the further development of the country.

ISIL claims Baghdad attacks that killed dozens

Powerful jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Thursday claimed attacks in Baghdad that killed dozens of people and announced a new campaign. ISIL militants have spearheaded a major offensive that has overrun all of one province, large areas of two more and part of a fourth since it began on Monday night. ISIL said it carried out attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday including three bombings that killed at least 30 people, in a statement posted on Twitter the following day.

Kurds take Iraq's Kirkuk, bomb targets minister

Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP) - Kurdish forces took control of the disputed Iraqi oil hub of Kirkuk on Thursday to protect it from jihadists, after which a bomb targeted a Kurdish security minister, officials said. Iraqi Kurds want to incorporate Kirkuk province into their autonomous region, a move Baghdad strongly has strongly opposed in a bitter, long-running dispute with them. "We tightened our control of Kirkuk city and are awaiting orders to move toward the areas that are controlled by ISIL," Brigadier General Shirko Rauf of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces told AFP. He was referring to jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has spearheaded a major offensive this week that has overrun all of one province and parts of Kirkuk and two other provinces.

Turkey in talks to free citizens kidnapped in Iraq

Turkey said Thursday it is holding talks to secure the release of dozens of its citizens kidnapped by Islamist militants in northern Iraq amid international calls for their release. "We are in touch with all the groups in Iraq including Kurds and Turkmens," a government official told AFP, without giving further details of which groups Ankara is talking to. Militants from the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Wednesday abducted 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, including the head of the mission. ISIL has also seized 31 Turkish truck drivers at a Mosul power station, drawing a promise of harsh reprisals from Ankara if any were harmed.

Spain king to skip heir Felipe's swearing-in

Spain's King Juan Carlos will skip the swearing-in of his son Felipe as his successor on June 19 so as not to grab attention from him, the palace said Thursday. Dogged over recent years by scandals and health problems, Juan Carlos is abdicating in favour of his more popular son, after a historic four-decade reign. "King Juan Carlos will not attend, so as to give more prominence to the new king," the spokesman said.

Canada to choose new fighter jets in coming weeks

The Canadian government said Thursday it will choose one of four fighter jets in competition to replace its aging fleet of CF-18s "in the coming weeks." Critics, however, contend the procurement process -- which was reset in 2012 amid complaints of several manufacturers being shut out of it -- is rigged in favor of the American Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet. Over the past 14 months, an independent review panel compiled the costs, capabilities and weaknesses of Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault's Rafale and the F-35. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week his cabinet would now review the panel's report, which has not been made public.

ICC to try I.Coast's Gbagbo for crimes against humanity

The International Criminal Court said Thursday it will try Ivory Coast ex-president Laurent Gbagbo for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during a bloody 2010-2011 election standoff. The pre-trial chamber "confirmed by majority four charges of crimes against humanity against Laurent Gbagbo and committed him for trial," the court said in a statement of the much-anticipated decision. Gbagbo, 69, is the first former head of state brought before the ICC, where he is accused of masterminding a campaign of violence during the presidential vote standoff in the world's largest cocoa producing country. He maintains that he was evicted in favour of his rival, current President Alassane Ouattara, thanks to a plot led by former colonial ruler France.

US 'looking at all the options' in Iraq: Obama

Washington (AFP) - US President Barack Obama said Thursday that his national security team was "looking at all the options" as the crisis in Iraq unfolds, with Arab jihadists pushing towards Baghdad.

Southern Baptists: Trans Doesn’t Exist

Forget decades of scientific studies and transgender people’s own lives—the Southern Baptist Convention has gone ahead and decided gender is only about your junk.

US patrol boats for Afghan forces never delivered

The Pentagon spent $3 million on eight patrol boats for the Afghan border police but the vessels have been sitting in a US warehouse in Virginia for the past three years, a US government watchdog said Thursday. The eight inflatable, rigid-hulled boats were purchased in October 2010 to help the Afghan National Police patrol the Amu Darya river along the country's border with Uzbekistan, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko. The Pentagon has yet to make clear the justification for scrapping the project and has not provided information showing if there was a feasibility study conducted beforehand or whether the Afghan interior ministry had a role in the decision to acquire the boats, it said. The US Defense Department has not yet decided what to do with the river patrol boats.

UN Security Council begins Iraq crisis talks

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Thursday held talks on the unraveling crisis in Iraq, where Kurds seized control of the contested oil city of Kirkuk and Arab jihadists pushed towards Baghdad. The consultations behind closed doors began shortly after 11:30 am (1530 GMT) and were due to include a briefing by video link from the UN special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov. It remains deeply unclear what further steps, if any, the UN Security Council can take. "It's obviously an extremely dramatic situation, clearly rooted in what happened in Iraq in 2003-2004," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters on his way into the meeting.

Republicans blast Obama over failed Iraq policy

The top congressional Republican laid into President Barack Obama Thursday, accusing him of taking a "nap" on Iraq, while a lawmaker called for US air strikes to repel Islamist rebels advancing on Baghdad. With jihadists capturing several large Iraqi cities, forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee, and threatening Baghdad, hawkish Senator John McCain called for "drastic measures" to reverse the tide and said Obama should sack his national security team for failed policies in the Middle East. You have been ill-served," he told Obama in a speech on the Senate floor. House Speaker John Boehner angrily snapped that the Obama administration has seen the pressure on Iraq's government building for over a year but did little to help authorities there counter the insurgents.

Texas Republican Abbott keeps strong lead in governor's race: poll

By Jon Herskovitz AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - The front-runner for the Texas governor's race, Republican Greg Abbott, has kept a solid lead over Democratic challenger Wendy Davis in their bids to run the economically and politically powerful state, a poll released on Thursday said. State Attorney General Abbott, 56, leads state Senator Davis by 12 percentage points, widening an 11-point lead he had in a similar survey taken in February, the poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune found.

Texas Republican Hensarling says won't seek majority leader job

Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas said on Thursday he will not run for majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives to replace Eric Cantor, who is stepping down. Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in statement: "After prayerful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right office at the right time for me and my family." Cantor said on Wednesday he would step down from his post as the No. 2 House Republican on July 31 following his surprising primary defeat on Tuesday to David Brat, an economics professor with strong support from the Tea Party movement. Cantor on Wednesday said he backed Representative Kevin McCarthy of California for majority leader.

The roots of Eric Cantor’s defeat

Tuesday’s upset was the latest skirmish in a fierce battle for the soul and control of the Virginia GOP that has raged over the past few election cycles as Democrats have become increasingly adept at winning statewide races.

90-year-old ex-president to make parachute jump

Former President George H.W. Bush can no longer use his legs, but he isn't letting that prevent him from keeping a vow made five years ago: to jump from an aircraft on his 90th birthday, which is Thursday.

Australian PM's climate stance watched on US visit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has few closer allies than Australia but climate change could prove a touchy issue when Australia's conservative prime minister makes his first White House visit Thursday.