Only the scattered voices of Kurdish fighters break the silence in the Iraqi village of Wadi Osaj, where the mud and cement block houses stand empty and locked after residents fled. The village in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, had been a bustling hamlet populated by some 50 Sunni Arab families. Residents of the village fled earlier this month when heavy fighting broke out in the area, fearing both peshmerga shellfire and the prospect of being swallowed into the swathes of territory that IS-led fighters have seized since they launched a sweeping offensive in June. Though the families have only been gone a few weeks, a look through the window of one house in the village reveals it to be eerily empty, as if they have never been lived in at all.
Even in the age of emails and Internet video chatting, there's nothing like a parcel or a letter from home for US soldiers on deployment in Afghanistan. The incoming mail at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lightning consists of everything from televisions and T-shirts to golf balls -- and still plenty of handwritten envelopes from family and friends. Troops at FOB Lightning have been rushing to send out carpets, scarves, trinkets and other souvenirs in their last chance to use the mail depot before it shuts and is replaced by an occasional delivery-only service. "The mail service is like Christmas time.
By AARON MENDELSON SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The California State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday imposing strict regulations on how law enforcement and other government agencies can use drones, a move supporters said will protect privacy and prevent warrantless surveillance. The bill attracted bipartisan support in the Senate, passing 25-8 during the evening vote in Sacramento. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned aircraft, or drone, except in emergencies such as a fire or a hostage-taking. Other public agencies would be able to use drones, or contract for their use, to achieve their "core mission," so long as that mission is not to gather criminal intelligence.
North Korea has joined the ranks of America's foes who have seized on riots in Missouri, saying the nation is the "graveyard of human rights" and should mind its own business rather than criticise others. The police shooting of an unarmed black teenager and subsequent crackdown on protesters in the Midwestern town of Ferguson has also given China, Iran and Russia ammunition to sound off about America's flaws. North Korea, which is regularly condemned by Washington and others over allegations of gross human rights abuses, said the US had no right to pass judgement on others. "The US is indeed a country wantonly violating human rights where people are subject to discrimination and humiliation due to their race, and are in constant fear that they may get shot at any moment," a spokesman from North Korea's foreign ministry was quoted as saying by state-run news agency KCNA.
Ailing Zambian President Michael Sata has not been seen in public for more than two months, prompting a behind-the-scenes power struggle to succeed him. Publicly at least, the government of this copper-rich nation maintains that 77-year-old Sata -- once nicknamed "King Cobra" -- is in sound health and is discharging his duties as normal. "There is a power struggle because those that are close to him know that he is not strong enough to live much longer, and they have advanced their preparations for elections," political scientist Neo Simutanyi told AFP. If the president dies in office or steps down for health reasons, the cabinet will name an acting president.
By Letitia Stein TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for Florida governor on Tuesday, defeating his primary challenger with almost 75 percent of the vote and setting the stage for a nationally watched governor's race. Republican Governor Rick Scott easily cruised toward victory with more than 87 percent of the vote over two little-known primary opponents. Primary vote results provide an initial gauge of Democratic enthusiasm for Crist, who governed Florida as a Republican from 2007 to 2011 and now wants the job back under a different party label. Crist largely ignored a primary challenge from Nan Rich, a former state legislator from south Florida who in conceding called on her supporters to help vote out Scott.
Liberia's leader has sacked ministers and senior government officials who defied an order to return to the west African nation to lead the fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak, her office said. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had told overseas ministers to return within a week as part of a state-of-emergency announcement on August 6, warning that extraordinary measures were needed "for the very survival of our state". United Nations officials have pledged to step up efforts against the lethal tropical virus, which has infected more than 2,600 and killed 1,427 since the start of the year. The World Health Organization said on Monday more than 120 health workers across west Africa had died during the "unprecedented" outbreak, and more than 240 had been infected.
By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto thanked California on Thursday for improving the lives of immigrants from his country, including legalizing drivers' licenses for undocumented migrants and making it easier for them to work and start businesses. Pena Nieto, on his first trip to the United States since becoming president in 2012, addressed a joint session of the California legislature, detailing economic and electoral reforms enacted back home and emphasizing his country's social and economic ties to the state. "I want to thank you for what you have done for migrants, especially the ones from Mexico," Pena Nieto said. "It's no coincidence that my first visit to the United States is in California." Pena Nieto's visit was the latest in a series of exchanges with Mexico that included a trip to that country last month by California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and a visit to Sacramento by Mexico's foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade.
An American fighting for the Islamic State was killed over the weekend in Syria, US officials said, underlining growing concerns about Westerners signing up for extremist groups in the Middle East. The United States had been aware that Douglas McCain, 33, a one-time aspiring rapper and basketball fan from California, was in war-torn Syria, the White House said, confirming his death. McCain, who converted from Christianity to Islam about a decade ago, was killed in fighting against the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked group blacklisted by the United States, US media reports said. "We continue to use every tool we possess to disrupt and dissuade individuals from traveling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
Talks between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine apparently failed to make a major breakthrough towards ending brutal fighting in east Ukraine Wednesday as strongman Vladimir Putin played down the entry by his troops into the former Soviet state. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Putin sat down for a crunch one-on-one in Minsk after marathon talks involving top EU officials as tensions spiked after Moscow admitted for the first time that its troops had crossed into Ukraine. Poroshenko said there were "some results" but there seemed to be no significant compromises to help end four months of clashes between government forces and pro-Russian fighters that some fear could spill over into all-out war between the two neighbours. The Russian leader said he would "do everything" to help a future peace process but did little to soothe tensions when he shrugged off Kiev's claims it had captured 10 Russian troops on its territory, with military sources in Moscow earlier saying they crossed over "by accident".
By Gary Robertson RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell said on Tuesday a federal prosecutor was "completely off base" to suggest that he had provided help to a dietary supplement businessman in exchange for loans. In a heated fifth day on the witness stand in his federal corruption trial, McDonnell said there was no link between $50,000 in loans to a realty company McDonnell was a partner in and help he may have given the entrepreneur, Jonnie Williams Sr. "You're completely off base," McDonnell, a Republican whose four-year term ended in January, told Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry during the second day of his cross-examination in a packed U.S.
Saudi police have arrested eight people in the northwest suspected of recruiting young people to join the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq and Syria, the interior ministry said Tuesday. Police in Tamir, 150 kilometres (100 miles) north of Riyadh, arrested eight people "who deluded young people into joining foreign extremist groups," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency. The arrests were made as part of security operation implementing a royal decree ordering a crackdown on members and supporters of extremist groups, the statement said. An imam and a teacher were among the people arrested, "supporters of the Islamic State, accused of encouraging young people to go to the war zones in Syria and Iraq," the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported.
When 15-year-old Daniil's family packed up their belongings in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in May and moved to the coast of Ukraine's Azov Sea to get away from the fighting, they thought they were safe. Now the war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has caught up with them, turning their refuge in government-held territory into a "new front" of Ukraine's brutal conflict over the past few days. "The shelling started here, and my mother got scared," the teenage boy said, as his family readied to leave their refuge in Novoazovsk, a coastal town around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Donetsk. The small working-class town of Novoazovsk is only 12 kilometres from the frontier with Russia's Rostov region, and Kiev has blamed Russia for sending armoured convoys across the border.
By Roberta Rampton WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A probe into long waits for medical treatment at Veterans Affairs facilities in Phoenix documented suffering by sick veterans affected by cover-ups of wait-list delays but did not find evidence that the shoddy care had caused patient deaths. While Phoenix officials masked months-long wait times to try to achieve two-week targets used for salary and bonus awards, some veterans experienced "clinically significant delays" in care, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general, an internal watchdog.