By Jeffrey Heller and Sylvia Westall JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper were killed on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel, one of the most violent clashes between the two sides since a 2006 war. The soldiers were killed when Hezbollah fired five missiles at a convoy of Israeli military vehicles on the frontier with Lebanon. The peacekeeper, serving with a U.N. monitoring force in southern Lebanon, was killed as Israel responded with air strikes and artillery fire, a U.N. spokesman and Spanish officials said.
By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou ATHENS (Reuters) - Leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threw down an open challenge to international creditors on Wednesday by halting privatisation plans agreed under the country's bailout deal, prompting a third day of heavy losses on financial markets. A swift series of announcements signalled the newly installed government would stand by its anti-austerity pledges, setting it on a collision course with European partners, led by Germany, which has said it will not renegotiate the aid package needed to help Greece pay its huge debts. Tsipras, who was congratulated by U.S. President Barack Obama in a phone call for his decisive election victory on Sunday, told the first meeting of his cabinet members that they could not afford to disappoint voters battered by a plunge in living standards under austerity. After announcing a halt to the privatisation of the port of Piraeus on Tuesday, for which China's Cosco Group [COSCO.UL] and four others had been short-listed, the government indicated it would put the whole programme on hold.
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan said on Wednesday it had received no assurance that one of its pilots captured by Islamic State insurgents was safe and that it would go ahead with a proposed prisoner swap only if he was freed. The fate of air force pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh was thought to be tied to that of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, a veteran war reporter who is also being held by the insurgent group. A video was released on Tuesday purporting to show the Japanese national saying he had 24 hours to live unless Jordan released Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack. Government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan was ready to release al-Rishawi if Kasaesbeh was spared, but made clear that she was still being held until the pilot was freed.
By Enrique Pretel SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Cuba will not accept any interference from the United States, President Raul Castro said on Wednesday, warning that meddling in its internal affairs would make rapprochement between the two countries "meaningless." His comments came after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit the island in nearly 40 years, last week met with dissidents a day after talks with Cuban government officials. "If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States would be meaningless," he said.
By Thomas Grove MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday military action by the Ukrainian government would prompt an "inevitable further escalation of the conflict" with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and undermine any peacemaking. Russia has stepped up criticism of Kiev since violence has intensified in the conflict, where a ceasefire collapsed after rebels drove Ukrainian government forces out of Donetsk airport. The separatists say they want to drive back government forces and their artillery out of range of the cities they hold and improve their grip on strongholds. "The latest military actions provoked by Kiev will lead to the inevitable further escalation of the conflict (and) undermine efforts taken by the international community to end the bloodshed," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
By Sarah Marsh BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The man who lent an Argentine prosecutor the gun that killed him the day before he was to testify in Congress about allegations against the president emerged from hiding on Wednesday, saying the investigator feared for his family's life. The prosecutor's employee, Diego Lagomarsino, is the only person to be charged with any offence so far in the case of Alberto Nisman, who was investigating the 1994 bombing of Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. "I asked him why he wanted it," a pale looking Lagomarsino told a news conference. "At this point, he cracked up, and said: 'Do you know what it is like for your children not to want to be with you just in case something happens to them?" Lagomarsino recounted.
Amnesty International on Wednesday claimed that Nigeria's military top brass were warned of brutal Boko Haram attacks on the northeast towns of Baga and Monguno this month but failed to take action. Amnesty said it received information from senior military officers and other sources indicating that defence officials were told about Boko Haram's plans to attack both towns but did not act on requests to send reinforcements. "It is clear from this evidence that Nigeria's military leadership woefully and repeatedly failed in their duty to protect civilians of Baga and Monguno despite repeated warnings about an impending threat posed by Boko Haram," said Amnesty's Africa director Netsanet Belay. A Monguno resident was quoted as saying that residents there were also warned about a looming Boko Haram offensive and that this information was passed on to the military but no action was taken.
Human rights groups criticized Mexico's government on Wednesday for concluding that 43 students missing since September were killed, saying it was premature because unanswered questions remain in the case. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued separate statements questioning the conclusions of Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam in a case that has engulfed President Enrique Pena Nieto in the biggest crisis of his administration. Both international organizations said the investigation relied mostly on confessions from gang suspects, who said they killed and incinerated the students after they received them from corrupt local police in southern Guerrero state.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The president of Israel is urging nations to wage an all-out war against genocide saying "the Holocaust of the Jews was not the final chapter in the brutal scheme of man against his fellow man."
Ending conflict in Libya can only be achieved through a political deal, Libyan and regional leaders said Wednesday after African Union-led talks. "The only solution to bring an end to the current crisis in Libya is a political settlement," Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dayri said after meeting with the AU's International Contact Group for Libya, ahead of a summit Friday of the continent's leaders in the 54-nation bloc. The Contact Group, set up by the AU's Peace and Security Council, includes regional nations -- Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia -- as well as the Arab League, European Union and United Nations. "The situation in Libya cannot be resolved by force, but only by a political agreement between Libyans themselves," said Jacob Enoh Eben, spokesman for AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to the Islamic State group Wednesday in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with a Japanese hostage. Meeting the Islamic State's demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom's hard-line approach to the extremists, but the government faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home.
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to the Islamic State group Wednesday in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with a Japanese hostage.
The Argentine prosecutor whose sudden death has set off a crisis for President Cristina Kirchner no longer trusted even his bodyguards at the end of his life, an assistant said Wednesday. A tense Diego Lagomarsino, his voice breaking at times, recounted at a news conference how he came to give Alberto Nisman the .22-caliber revolver used to put a bullet through his head. The 51-year-old special prosecutor was found dead at his home January 18, a day before he was to go before a congressional committee to accuse Kirchner of shielding Iranian officials implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. Nisman told Lagomarsino he feared for the safety of his two daughters -- who are seven and 15 years old, and were on vacation in Spain at the time.
The UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting from 2100 GMT on Wednesday to discuss the flare-up of violence on the Israeli-Lebanon border, diplomats said. France requested the urgent talks in the 15-member council after two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UN peacekeeper died in the exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters. Tension in the area has been building, especially after an Israeli air strike on the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general on January 18. Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council in a letter that Israel will take all necessary measures to defend itself in response to the Hezbollah attack.
Jordan is still holding a prisoner whose release has been demanded by Islamic State militants and her freedom depends on the fate of a Jordanian pilot captured by the insurgents, government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said on Wednesday. Her release is tied to freeing our pilot," Momani said of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack. The fate of the pilot was thought to be tied to that of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto after a video was released on Tuesday purporting to show the Japanese national saying he had 24 hours to live unless Jordan released al-Rishawi.
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has come under pressure from Europe's human rights watchdog and the United States to free Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian air force officer who is on hunger strike in a Russian prison.
The Smithsonian network of world-famous museums in Washington is looking to set up an exhibition space in London, on the site of the 2012 Olympics, it announced Wednesday. It would mark the first time that the Smithsonian -- which traces its origins to an Englishman who never visited America -- has set up a long-term venue outside the United States. In a statement, it said it envisions a 40,000 square foot (3,700 square meter) space to open in 2021 in a cultural venue to be called Olympicopolis in the East End of the British capital, a project spearheaded by London's Mayor Boris Johnson. "An exhibition space in London will enable us to share the Smithsonian with an international audience in a way we havenâ t been able to before," said Al Horvath, the Smithsonian's acting secretary, who has been tasked with negotiating a lease for the site.
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Separatist forces in eastern Ukraine said Wednesday they have almost fully encircled government forces in a town that hosts a strategic railway hub, putting them within grasp of a decisive new victory.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Saudi Arabian air force sergeant who arrived in Las Vegas for New Year's Eve two years ago may never get to leave Nevada after being sentenced Wednesday to a minimum of 35 years in state prison for kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old boy at a Las Vegas Strip hotel.
A Kenyan court acquitted a suspected British Islamist militant of nine charges Wednesday but the key charge of terrorism for which he is on trial remains, a magistrate said. Suspected radical Jermaine Grant, accused of plotting bomb attacks and having ties to Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab, was arrested in December 2011 in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa with chemicals, batteries and switches. Magistrate Anastacia Ndungu told a Mombasa court that he must be acquitted of nine charges, including trying to falsely register as a Kenyan citizen. Grant is believed to have become radicalised as a teenager in the same British prison where "shoe bomber" Richard Reid first turned to Islam.
Inhabitants of Winnipeg, Canada's sixth largest city, have been warned not to use tap water without first boiling it, after E. coli bacteria was detected in the water supply, officials said Wednesday. "In terms of the city of Winnipeg, this is the first boil water advisory for the entire city of Winnipeg," said Geoff Patton, director of the city's water and waste agency. No infections have been reported at city hospitals since the E. coli bacteria was detected in the water supply on Monday. The city said it issued the boil water advisory as a precaution after what it said were "atypical test results" showing E. coli in six of 39 samples of city water, despite chlorine levels that surpassed requirements.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The man who gave prosecutor Alberto Nisman the gun that killed him said Wednesday that Nisman feared for the safety of his daughters and didn't trust the policemen protecting him.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations.
UN relief efforts in war-torn Syria are struggling to reach 40 percent of civilians in need and face a major funding shortfall, a senior UN aid official said Wednesday. As the war heads toward a fifth year, some 4.8 million Syrians or around 40 percent of the total 12.2 million people in need of help are difficult to reach, said Assistant Secretary-General for aid Kang Kyung-wha. Kang told the Security Council that UN agencies were unable in December to deliver food to the Raqa and Deir Ezzor areas controlled by the Islamic State group and to towns besieged by Syrian government troops and opposition forces. UN agencies received less than half of the amount requested for last year, leaving "hundreds of thousands" of civilians without aid during the harsh winter months, said Kang.
By David Ljunggren OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's electronic spy agency has been intercepting and analyzing data on up to 15 million file downloads daily as part of a global surveillance program, according to a report published on Wednesday. Critics said the revelations - made in 2012 documents obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden - showed much more oversight was needed over the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE. The documents are the first indication from the Snowden files to show Canada has launched its own massive, globe-spanning Internet surveillance in a bid to counter extremists. The covert dragnet, nicknamed Levitation, has covered allied countries and trading partners such as the United States, Britain, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the report by CBC News and journalist Glenn Greenwald said.
EU foreign ministers will add names to a blacklist of individuals sanctioned over the Ukraine crisis when they meet Thursday but stop short of new measures targeting Russia's economy, sources said. The leaders of the 28 European Union nations issued a rare joint statement on Tuesday telling ministers "to consider any appropriate action" after a bloody upsurge in fighting around the key port city of Mariupol by pro-Russia rebels. Economic sanctions will not be approved at Thursday's meeting but the foreign ministers are expected to ask the European Commission to draw up possible further steps so that leaders can make a decision at a summit on February 12, the sources said. "We will probably see a request for the European Commission to put more people on the list and evaluate the scope for further appropriate measures," an EU source told AFP on condition of anonymity Wednesday.
The coaches of Mali and Guinea Wednesday criticised drawing lots to decide which country reaches the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals. A 1-1 draw in Mongomo between the west African countries left them joint runners-up behind Ivory Coast in Group D, level on points, goal difference and goals scored. Who advances to face Ghana in the quarter-finals will be decided Thursday at 1500 GMT by drawing lots in a Malabo hotel. Mali coach Henri Kasperczak said: "You have to respect the rules, we have no choice.
BRUSSELS (AP) — Internet giant Google said Wednesday that the sheer volume of video on its YouTube website makes it tough to catch all terror related content, complicating the struggle to halt the spread of terrorist propaganda and hostage footage.
U.S. stocks drifted between small gains and losses in late-afternoon trading Wednesday as investors digested the Federal Reserve's latest policy announcement. The central bank reiterated that it will be patient in raising rates from record lows, noting that inflation remains ultra-low. But it also strengthened its assessment of the U.S. economy.
Canada is lending $200 million to Ukraine to boost the strife-torn nation's economy as it battles pro-Russian separatists, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday. After backing stringent Western-led economic sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, Harper said Canada now wanted to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy. The low interest $200 million loan comes after the same amount was lent to Ukraine last September, Harper said. Sanctions imposed by Canada targeted Russian oil industry interests and banks and the assets of Russian and pro-Russian officials, in parallel to sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union.
France's highest appeals court on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for a French-Moroccan gay couple to marry, going against a ruling that homosexuals from Morocco and 10 other nations cannot tie the knot in the country. France legalised same-sex marriage in 2013 after months of intense and sometimes violent protests, and the couple -- Dominique and Mohammed -- immediately got to work planning their official union. They cited a government circular stating that nationals from countries as diverse as Morocco, Poland and Laos were not allowed to marry people of the same sex in France. They are among 11 nations that ban gay marriage and had signed agreements with France under which a citizen in a binational couple must obey his or her own nation's marriage law.
It means Spain set up a heavyweight clash against current European champions France in one semi-final. Qatar will play Poland in the easier-looking of the two semi-finals, giving the hosts a strong chance of making their first ever final. Qatar may have achieved their last-four spot by drafting in several foreign players but for a nation that had previously never got any further than the last 16, progression to the semi-finals is still a notable achievement. After the match, Qatar's coach Valero Rivera said the first 30 minutes was the most impressive they had played in the tournament.
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand accused the United States on Wednesday of meddling in its political affairs, saying many Thais had been hurt by remarks of a visiting U.S. envoy who criticized actions by the ruling military junta. The long-time U.S. ally expressed its displeasure about remarks on Monday by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel by summoning the U.S. charge d'affaires Patrick Murphy to the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok. A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said Murphy reiterated the U.S. call for more inclusive politics and an end to martial law.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko appealed to Russia's Vladimir Putin on Wednesday while Washington threatened tougher measures should Moscow fail to rein in separatists mounting a new offensive in the east of the ex-Soviet republic. Poroshenko's personal letter and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's warning came one day after European Union leaders unanimously backed pursuing more economic restrictions against Russia for its alleged meddling in Ukraine.
By Chris Arsenault ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Heavy floods in southern Malawi have killed at least 79 people, forced more than 170,000 from their homes and cost about 160,000 people their livelihoods, a UN agency said on Wednesday. A state of emergency has been declared in 15 of Malawi’s 28 districts, and 63,000 hectares of land are under water, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported. In one district alone, 153 people are still missing, the FAO said, and the death toll is expected to rise. "Displaced people are either in camps or hosted by relatives," Florence Rolle, a senior FAO official in Malawi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are tying up to exploit two "significant" deepwater oil discoveries in the US Gulf of Mexico, BP announced Wednesday. British oil giant BP said it would sell about half of its equity interest in the Gila and Tiber fields to the two US firms, leaving the three with equal working shares in the prospects and any future centralized production facility. BP said the exploration and development work in the deep Paleogene, or lower tertiary subsea strata, in the Gulf involves challenging high temperature and high-pressure oil reservoirs. In 2010 a well BP was drilling in a different risky high-pressure zone blew out, killing 11 people as it destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and fouling the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil.