The ruble slumped to a record low against the US dollar on Friday as investors worried that the West may tighten sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine. The ruble slid to 37.0260 to the dollar, breaking its previous record low set in March when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Tension is rising over Russian support for separatists in fighting in eastern Ukraine. "Negative headlines coming out of Ukraine are causing negative sentiment again," said analysts at Alfa Bank.
"Syria's intensifying refugee crisis will today surpass a record three million people," the UN's refugee agency said in a statement, adding that the number did not include hundreds of thousands of others who fled without registering as refugees. Less than a year ago, the number of registered Syrian refugees stood at two million, UNHCR said, pointing to reports of "increasingly horrifying conditions inside the country" to explain the surge. The increasingly fragmented conflict raging in Syria has claimed more than 191,000 lives since erupting in March 2011. In addition to the refugees, the violence has also displaced 6.5 million people within the country, meaning that nearly 50 percent of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, UNHCR said.
Japan's defence ministry on Friday made its biggest ever budget request, as Tokyo bolsters its military amid worries over China's expanding naval reach. The request, if approved, would mark the third straight annual defence budget increase and a 3.5 percent rise from the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2015. The trend reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wish to build a more active military, with an eye on a possible escalation of tensions with China. Japan is increasingly wary of Beijing, which is seen by several countries in the region as becoming increasingly aggressive in various sovereignty claims, including a suppurative row over island ownership with Tokyo.
Hong Kong democracy advocates expressed alarm Friday after Chinese army vehicles were photographed travelling down a major thoroughfare, in what they condemned as a show of "military might" ahead of expected protests. At least four People's Liberation Army (PLA) armoured personnel carriers were seen in the small hours of Thursday near the busy Jordan and Yau Ma Tei regions of the city, the Apple Daily newspaper reported. The vehicles, with short guns mounted on turrets, were spotted at a time of heightened public discontent in the semi-autonomous city over perceived interference by Beijing and a debate over how the next chief executive will be chosen under planned reforms. Beijing has promised the former British colony will be able to vote for its own leader in 2017.
The jihadist Islamic State group has posted video of the execution of a captured Kurdish fighter, in a warning to Iraqi Kurdish leaders to end military cooperation with Washington, a monitoring group said. The United States has carried out a wave of air strikes against the jihadists in northern Iraq, helping Kurdish forces to claw back ground lost to the militants earlier this month. The video, titled "A message in blood to the leaders of the American-Kurdish alliance," opens with 15 men in orange jumpsuits standing around the IS flag. Three of the men ask Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani "and the Kurdish government to end their relationship with the US... military intervention in northern Iraq," the SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service said.
Syrian rebels surrounded dozens of defiant Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Friday and demanded they give up their weapons, hours after taking 43 Fijian soldiers hostage, authorities said. Seventy-five Filipino members of a United Nations' peacekeeping force were defending two posts on the Syrian side of Golan Heights, and were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said. "We can use deadly force in defence of the UN facilities," Colonel Roberto Ancan told reporters. Syrian rebels, including fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing at Quneitra on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.
The US commander who helped place special operation forces at the forefront of the American military hung up his uniform, hailing a "golden age" for the elite commandos. Admiral William McRaven, 58, rose to prominence for his role in overseeing the successful 2011 raid by Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani compound. Experts and fellow officers say he helped shape a new doctrine for commandos and a new approach in Washington to military power that emphasizes "small footprints" over large-scale deployments. At a ceremony on Thursday, marking McRaven's retirement as head of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said the admiral had "deepened our relationships abroad, working more closely with allies and partners to better anticipate and counter threats."
By Roberta Rampton WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he still planned to take steps on his own to improve the U.S. Obama had previously said he planned by the end of summer to find ways to change immigration regulations, unilateral action he said was made necessary by the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive reforms. Asked whether he would delay his decision on immigration changes, Obama talked about the time his administration has invested on apprehending migrant children, nearly 63,000 of whom have come across the southwestern border since October 2013. "Some of these things do affect timelines, and we're just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done," Obama said.
As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prepares to end a two-year forced stay at Ecuador's London embassy, he may take comfort in knowing he inspired resistance to secrecy in places as far away as Swaziland. SwaziLeaks members -- who refuse to say who or where in Swaziland they are, for fear of being targeted -- started a Twitter feed a year ago. "We wanted to try and expose some of the exploitation and corruption of the rich and powerful," SwaziLeaks told AFP. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III. The government is frequently accused of stifling dissent and jailing opponents.
US President Barack Obama admitted Thursday that he still does not have a strategy to fight Islamic State jihadists in Syria, as the militants boasted they had executed scores of Syrian troops -- the latest in a string of atrocities that have shocked the world. Dampening hopes of imminent air strikes in Syria, Obama said he was still developing a comprehensive plan to defeat IS, which has also overrun large swathes of Iraq. The civil war in Syria has killed some 191,000 people since it erupted in March 2011 with President Bashar al-Assad's bloody effort to put down an uprising. The chaotic situation on the ground was underlined by the seizing of 43 UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights by rival Islamist rebels, led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
US President Barack Obama said it was "plain for the world to see" that Russian forces were fighting in Ukraine, but ruled out any US military action to resolve the escalating conflict. Obama, who is due in Wales next week for a NATO summit, made clear that ex-Soviet states now in the alliance could expect a US military defense, but said such guarantees did not apply to non-member Kiev. He however told reporters that he would host Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in September to discuss the escalating crisis. Obama's comments came after NATO reported that hundreds of Russian government troops had crossed into east Ukraine to shore up the pro-Kremlin fighters there.
By Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday the United States has not yet developed a strategy for confronting Islamic State in Syria, an acknowledgement that a decision had not been made on whether to launch air strikes against the militant group. Obama's comment during a White House news conference before a meeting of national security advisers about how to proceed against Islamic State drew criticism from Republicans and a clarification from White House spokesman Josh Earnest.