Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel will embark Wednesday on a 12-day trip that will take in Singapore before heading to Europe for talks with NATO allies. The tour will begin with a brief stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, where the US defense secretary will receive briefings on missile defense, his office said. There, he will call once again for strengthening partnerships with countries in the region as part of the US "pivot" towards Asia, and hold a series of meetings with defense ministers, though Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby would not specify with whom.
A rare bomb attack rocked Pakistan's capital early Saturday, injuring one, according to officials. "One person has been injured in the blast, he has been shifted to hospital," Abdul Majeed, a police official told AFP by telephone, adding the explosion was caused by a bomb. Another police official confirmed the details of the incident. A third police official said the man who was injured was attempting to plant a bomb.
The United States Friday suspended $3.5 million in military assistance for Thailand, about one-third of its aid to the ally, and urged Americans to reconsider travel plans after the army seized power. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was also reviewing the rest of US aid to Thailand -- which totaled some $10.5 million in 2013 -- to look for further cuts. Harf said the United States was looking through its allocated funding for international bodies, including the 10-nation ASEAN bloc, to identify money directed to Thailand. The United States has contacted junta leaders to deliver the message, Harf said.
The Pentagon said Friday it plans to give back 21 European properties it makes little or no use of and said returning the sites would have no military consequence. Relinquishing the "minor" properties -- including a golf course, a hotel, and a skeet range -- will save US taxpayers some $60 million, the US Defense Department said in a statement. The facilities' return to their host nations in Europe, "is part of a continued effort for US European Command (USEUCOM) to shed non-enduring and excess sites" from its real estate inventory, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby in a statement. "None of these adjustments affects existing force structure or military capabilities, and the efficiencies will further enable US European Command to resource high priority missions," he said.
From Mount Nebo, with its views of the Holy Land, to sandstone churches in dusty villages, Jordan's Christians are preparing for a papal visit they hope will boost their standing in the Middle East. Pope Francis arrives in Amman on Saturday for the first leg of a three-day trip which will take him to the Palestinian Territories and Jerusalem with a message of interreligious dialogue and peace for the troubled region. While Christians in neighbouring countries have been increasingly persecuted following the Arab Spring uprisings, Christian communities in Jordan appear to be thriving, their numbers boosted by an influx of foreign workers and refugees. "We Christians have been in this region a long time, the early Christians lived here.
By Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama elevated fast-rising Latino politician Julian Castro to the national stage on Friday, nominating the San Antonio mayor as the next secretary of housing and urban development. The move automatically puts the 39-year-old Mexican-American in the mix of speculation about who might be the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2016. Obama picked Castro to fill the position that will be left by current HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who Obama nominated as the next White House budget director. Castro and his twin brother, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, rose from humble roots.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Friday he was willing to negotiate with the United States to allow a jailed FARC leader participate in peace talks -- a long-standing demand of the leftist rebels. "If it is important to achieve peace, I don't have any problem acting on this," the president said when asked about his stance on FARC leader Simon Trinidad during an interview with Caracol Radio. Trinidad, 63, whose real name is Juvenal Palmera, was extradited to the United States December 31, 2004 and sentenced to 60 years in prison for the abduction of three US citizens, who were held for four years by the FARC after their capture in Colombia.
The International Criminal Court on Friday sentenced Congolese militia boss Germain "Simba" Katanga to 12 years in jail for arming an ethnic militia that carried out a "particularly cruel" 2003 village massacre. "The chamber sentences Germain Katanga to 12 years in prison," presiding Judge Bruno Cotte told the Hague-based tribunal when it handed down its second sentence since opening in 2003. The almost seven years that Katanga has already spend in detention will be deducted from the sentence, he said. Katanga, 36, was convicted in March of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and pillaging, for his role in the attack on Bogoro village in the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 24, 2003.
Demonstrators converged on the White House on Friday to demand that US President Barack Obama make good on his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Representing about a dozen organizations, the estimated 50 protesters -- some in black hoods and orange prison suits -- also called for an end to the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects. The demonstration came a year to the day that Obama reaffirmed his commitment to shut the Guantanamo facility, set up at a US naval base on Cuba after the September 11 attacks in 2001. "Since the president spoke these words, there has been progress -- but at a very slow pace," said Ron Stief of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
US President Barack Obama nominated Hispanic Democrat Julian Castro, who is tipped for future political stardom, as his new housing and urban development secretary on Friday. The move will equip the San Antonio mayor, 39, with Washington and cabinet experience that would be useful should he seek statewide office in Texas or even be tipped to serve on a future vice presidential ticket. Castro, and his identical twin brother Joaquin Castro, a US congressman, are regarded as great future hopes of the Democratic Party. Democrats are keen to highlight the pair as the party seeks extend its dominance over Republicans among Hispanic voters in presidential elections.
A Moscow court on Friday ordered a prominent Russian human rights group to register itself as a "foreign agent" under a controversial new law. Under a law passed last year, NGOs that carry out political activities and receive international funding must register and name themselves as "foreign agents" in all their documents. A hearing at Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky district court on Friday heard Memorial's appeal against the April 2013 order. But according to a statement sent to AFP by the group, judge Yana Shemyakina rejected the appeal.
Thousands of demonstrators rallied Friday in support of a rogue former general whose forces have launched a "dignity" campaign to crush jihadist militias in eastern Libya. Ex-general Khalifa Haftar has garnered growing support amid frustration at the lawlessness in Libya three years after the overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi. "Yes to dignity," read banners carried by demonstrators at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli. Thousands more pro-Haftar demonstrators gathered outside Tibesti Hotel in the eastern city of Benghazi, a stronghold of the Islamists, and in Baida, further east.
US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules. Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union. "We cannot envisage... changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations," EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington. "There's no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don't want to eat -- that's not what this agreement is about," said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.