By Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain said on Wednesday it will send fighter jets to Romania next year and the United States promised troops, tanks and artillery to Poland in NATO's biggest military build-up on Russia's borders since the Cold War. Germany, Canada and other NATO allies also pledged forces at a defense ministers meeting in Brussels on the same day two Russian warships armed with cruise missiles entered the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Denmark, underscoring East-West tensions. In Madrid, the foreign ministry said Russia had withdrawn a request to refuel three warships in Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta after NATO allies said they could be used to target civilians in Syria.
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Saif Hameed QAYYARA/BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters kept up on Wednesday their fierce defense of the southern approaches to Mosul, which has held up Iraqi troops there and forced an elite army unit east of the city to put a more rapid advance on hold. Ten days into what is expected to be the biggest ground offensive in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, army and federal police units aim to dislodge the militants from villages in the region of Shora, 30 km (20 miles) south of Mosul. The frontlines in other areas have moved much closer to the edges of the city, the last major stronghold under control of the militants in Iraq, who have held it since 2014.
By Andrew Osborn and Simon Johnson MOSCOW/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Russia is sharply upgrading the firepower of its Baltic Fleet by adding warships armed with long-range cruise missiles to counter NATO's build-up in the region, Russian media reported on Wednesday. There was no official confirmation from Moscow, but the reports will raise tensions in the Baltic, already heightened since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, and cause particular alarm in Poland and Lithuania which border Russia's base there. The reported deployment comes as NATO is planning its biggest military build-up on Russia's borders since the Cold War to deter possible Russian aggression.
ROME (Reuters) - A 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck central Italy on Wednesday, two months after a stronger quake killed almost 300 people and levelled small towns. The United States Geological Survey initially gave its strength as 5.6, later revising it to 5.4, at a depth of 10 km (six miles). There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The quake struck near the border between the regions of Marche and Umbria, with the epicenter near the town of Castelsantangelo sul Nera. It could be felt in Rome, at about 1710 GMT. ...
Israel on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to UNESCO for consultations after the U.N. culture body adopted a second resolution in two weeks that Israeli leaders said ignored Judaism's connection with one of Jerusalem's holiest sites. According to a text provided by Palestinian officials, the resolution adopted by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in Paris refers to the compound - revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) - only as a "Muslim holy site of worship", just as a similar motion did on Oct. 13. "The theater of the absurd continues," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.
Air strikes by Syrian or Russian warplanes killed at least 26 people, most of them school children, in a village in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on Wednesday, rescue workers and a monitoring group said. The raids hit a residential area and a school in Haas village, the Syrian Civil Defence rescue workers network said on its Facebook account. Syria's civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite Muslim militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan against an array of mostly Sunni Muslim rebel groups including some backed by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.
Venezuela's opposition moved to ratchet up pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro at mass protests on Wednesday, announcing plans for a general strike, a legislative onslaught and a new march. Opposition leaders called a 12-hour general strike for Friday and vowed to use their legislative majority to declare the leftist leader has "abandoned his post" amid a deepening economic and political crisis. "We are going to notify Nicolas Maduro that the Venezuelan people declare he has abandoned his post," the speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said to cheers from tens of thousands of protesters in Caracas.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Wednesday to step up his intervention in the conflict along his country's border with Syria, insisting he was determined to oust Syrian Kurdish forces gathering in the region.
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry said Wednesday there was no way he could see his former boss Arsene Wenger filling the vacant England manager's position. Wenger, who recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as manager of Arsenal, has been strongly linked with the job following the sacking of Sam Allardyce last month. "You can never say never but I personally don't see it happening," Henry told reporters in India's commercial capital Mumbai.
By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government released $28 million in federal grants to 13 coal-producing states on Wednesday to help them cope with the decline of the coal industry, driven by the move toward cleaner energy. With the Obama administration's announcement, over $66 million has been awarded this year to 71 projects that aim to aid workers displaced from coal company bankruptcies and create new industries in these areas. The competitive grants are part of President Barack Obama's POWER Initiative that provides federal resources to fund locally-created initiatives that help communities affected by coal job losses to prepare them for new economic activity.
South African police on Wednesday fired stun grenades to disperse student protesters outside parliament as the finance minister delivered a speech warning of the country's weakening economy. Pravin Gordhan cut the 2016 growth forecast sharply from 0.9 percent to 0.5 percent as South Africa struggles with political uncertainty, violent university protests and high unemployment. "Our economic growth will be just 0.5 per cent this year, rising to 1.7 percent in 2017," Gordhan told parliament in Cape Town.
For two years he had prayed he would again see the family he had left behind when his village near Mosul was overrun by Islamic State while he was off on deployment. Last week he learned from other advancing Iraqi forces who reached his home village that they had arrived too late to protect his family. Fleeing militants had taken them hostage and were bringing them deeper towards Mosul to use as human shields.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo's Roswell Park Cancer Institute has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a clinical trial of an innovative lung cancer vaccine developed in Cuba.
BOGOTA (Reuters) - A mudslide killed at least seven people and buried more than 10 others along a mountainous stretch of Colombia's main highway between Bogota and Medellin, authorities said on Wednesday. The avalanche of mud and rocks, triggered by recent heavy rains, spilled across four lanes of the highway and knocked out power lines, according to a statement from the government of Antioquia province. Rescue workers were still searching for possible survivors among the people unaccounted, the statement added. ...
Rape must be treated as an illegal weapon of war in the same way as chemical weapons, the campaigning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege said Wednesday. The specialist reconstructive surgeon, who has treated 45,000 victims of sexual violence in the strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, said a tougher line had to be taken against this "cheap and efficient" form of terror. Mukwege, who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with gang rape victims from the conflicts that have ravaged his homeland, said the world cannot remain indifferent to the suffering.
MOSCOW (AP) — Amnesty International says that a 10-year prison sentence handed to 22-year-old activist detained after spraying graffiti on a statue of the nation's ex-president is a "shocking assault on freedom of expression."
ROME (AP) — A 5.4-magnitude earthquake rattled central Italy on Wednesday, knocking out power, closing a major highway and sending panicked residents into the streets just two months after a powerful temblor killed nearly 300 people.
The Gambia has become the latest African nation to announce its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, accusing the war crimes tribunal of "persecuting" Africans. Banjul's decision follows similar action by South Africa and Burundi this month that have shaken the only permanent international war crimes court. Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang charged that the ICC had been used "for the persecution of Africans and especially their leaders" while ignoring crimes committed by the West.
QAYARA, Iraq (AP) — Islamic State militants have been going door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering people at gunpoint on a mileslong trek into the city and using them as human shields as the extremists prepare to defend it from Iraqi forces, according to residents swept up in the forced evacuations.
More than 10,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the October 17 start of an offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group, the United Nations said Wednesday. "Over 10,500 people are currently displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance," the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement. The aid community has been scrambling to build camps and bring equipment to areas on the edges of the Mosul battlefield, a vast area where Iraqi forces are closing in on jihadists from the north, east and south.
Britain cannot have it all as it exits the European Union and cannot leave behind the bloc's problems while benefiting from its advantages, French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll said on Wednesday. "You cannot say when exiting the EU you will keep all the advantages but leave behind anything that doesn't suit you," Le Foll said at a briefing in London before a bilateral meeting with his British counterpart Andrea Leadsom. "It's a choice which results in losing certain advantages which could be taken for granted," said Le Foll, who is also the spokesman for France's Socialist government.
NATO is making good progress in building up the battalions being deployed in eastern European allies badly rattled by a more assertive Russia, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. NATO leaders endorsed plans at their Warsaw summit in July to rotate troops into the three Baltic states and Poland to reassure them they would not be left in the lurch if Russia was tempted to repeat its Ukraine intervention. "I am actually very inspired by the meeting today because so many nations made very, very firm and concrete decisions and announcements of their contributions to the four battalions," Stoltenberg told reporters at a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
By Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A group loyal to Islamic State seized the small port town of Qandala in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region on Wednesday, the first town it has taken since emerging a year ago, officials said. The group, which refers to itself simply as Islamic State, is a rival to the larger al Shabaab force, which is linked to Islamic State's rival al Qaeda and once controlled much of Somalia. "Our soldiers were few and so could not fight longer," district commissioner Jamac Mohamed Khuurshe said.
The case of Italian student Giulio Regeni, who was murdered in Egypt in February, is an "open wound" for Italy, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday. "We got a few hopeful signals in September from the Egyptian judicial authorities, and the Rome prosecutor interpreted that as some willingness to collaborate," the minister said during a meeting with students at Rome's LUISS University.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Wednesday doubled a doping ban against Kenyan marathon star Rita Jeptoo to four years, signalling the end of her career. The world sports tribunal said there were aggravating circumstances including Jeptoo's "deceptive and obstructive" behaviour, which warranted doubling the original ban against the 2014 Chicago and Boston Marathon winner. The marathon titles were taken away from Jeptoo, now 35, who was also ordered to pay 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,000/13,850 euros) in legal costs to the world athletics body, the IAAF.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban insurgents on Wednesday killed 26 Afghan civilians after abducting them in the remote central province of Ghor the previous day, officials said, the latest brutal attack targeting the local population in one of the country's most lawless areas. The slain civilians were from a group of 33 taken by the militants near the provincial capital of Ferozkoh, according to Ziauddin Saqib, the deputy provincial police chief. Earlier reports suggested 20 were killed but the death toll rose later in the day. The abductions took place while battles were underway between the Taliban and Afghan security forces on Tuesday that saw two militant commanders killed, Saqib added.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyzstan's Cabinet resigned Wednesday following the breakup of the governing coalition, part of political maneuvering ahead of a constitutional referendum set for this fall in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday abstained for the first time from a United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for an end to a U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, after opposing such measures every year for 24 years. For the 25th time, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the resolution with 191 votes in favor. Communist-run Cuba and the United States, former Cold War foes, began normalizing relations in 2014.
By Ingrid Melander PARIS (Reuters) - The same first name and title seemed to be the most that embattled French President Francois Hollande had in common with Francois Mitterrand on Wednesday as he marked the 100th anniversary of his late predecessor's birth. Mitterrand, who exercised iron-fist control over his party and government, finished his first term in 1988 with high popularity ratings thanks to landmark policies that pleased his voters. "Francois Mitterrand knew how to make leftwing voters' hearts race, while Francois Hollande doesn't," Jean-Daniel Levy of Harris Interactive pollsters said.
Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova produced another extraordinary comeback to win her second straight match at the WTA Finals on Wednesday, sealing a place in the semi-finals. Just two days after she saved a match point to defeat the defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Kuznetsova again rallied back from the brink to beat US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova 3-6 6-2 7-6 (8-6) in a heart-stopper at Singapore’s Indoor Stadium. Kuznetsova still has another round-robin match to play on Friday against Garbine Muguruza but is already assured of finishing top of the White Group standings after Muguruza was beaten 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 by Radwanska in Wednesday’s late match.
By Idrees Ali and Yeganeh Torbati WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kurdish YPG militia fighters will be included as a part of the force to isolate the Islamic State-held Syrian city of Raqqa, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said on Wednesday. Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend also said in a news briefing that the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State wished to move urgently to isolate Raqqa because of concerns about the group using the city - its main stronghold in Syria - as a base to plan and launch attacks against targets abroad. The United States regards the YPG as an ally in its fight against Islamic State, but Turkey regards it as a terrorist organization because of its links with ethnic Kurdish militants involved in a three-decade insurgency within Turkey.
The French aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it had found the bodies of 29 migrants who perished in a pool of fuel and seawater on a crowded dinghy off Libya. MSF said its chartered rescue ship, the Bourbon Argos, picked up 107 people aboard the inflatable boat 26 nautical miles off Libya on Tuesday. The Bourbon Argos was then called away to another rescue operation nearby, saving 139 people aboard another vessel.
Battling rock-bottom approval ratings six months ahead of France's election, embattled President Francois Hollande marked the centenary of the birth of his 1980s predecessor Francois Mitterrand with an appeal for party unity. "To the left, to all of the left, he bequeathed a clear legacy -- to come together to govern and to govern to reform and change the country," Hollande said under architect I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris, one of the symbols of Mitterrand's 14-year presidency. For Hollande, 62, the event risked drawing unflattering comparisons with the only other Socialist to lead France in the last 60 years.
MADRID (AP) — The Spanish Parliament began an investiture debate on Wednesday that will likely result in the conservative Popular Party taking power later this week, ending 10 months of political deadlock during which a caretaker government has run the country.
By Babak Dehghanpisheh QAYYARA, Iraq (Reuters) - When Islamic State fighters were pushed out of the Qayyara airbase in July, they tried to demolish anything left behind. "Daesh did everything they could to make the place unusable," said Maj. Chris Parker, a coalition spokesman, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Now the base, referred to as Q-West by American forces, has become the main staging ground for some 1,000 troops from the U.S.-led coalition along with thousands of soldiers from the Iraqi army and federal police as they try to advance on Mosul.
Iraq's army said it had regained full control of the western town of Rutba on Wednesday, three days after Islamic State attacked it. Islamic State raided Rutba on Sunday in an apparent effort to divert Iraqi government troops from an ongoing assault on its stronghold in Mosul. The militants at one point controlled half of the town on a key route to Syria and Jordan in Anbar province, a hotbed for the largely Sunni Muslim insurgency against Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-led government.
By Stephen Kalin HASSAN SHAM, Iraq (Reuters) - White flags flying from their radio antennas, the pickup trucks laden with refugees and a few precious livestock snaked out of Tub Zawa after a day of heavy bombardment drove Islamic State fighters from the village on Mosul's eastern edge. Around 700 people fled the village early on Tuesday, escaping the military operation to recapture Iraq's second biggest city from the jihadists who have controlled it for nearly two and a half years. In the first 10 days of the Mosul campaign, the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by U.S.-led air forces and troops have made steady gains through often depopulated villages east and south of Mosul.