A group of Latin American countries could boycott the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Colombia if Cuba is not invited. Members of the ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) bloc of Latin American nations met Wednesday in Havana to consider the proposal, put forth by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. In early February, Correa was the first to suggest a boycott of the meeting in an attempt to push hosts Colombia to invite Cuba. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez has said his government is interested in attending the meeting, but adds it does not seek to membership in the Organization of American States. The Summit of the Americas, a gathering of the Organization of American States, is due on April 14-15.
One soldier has been killed and five others wounded Wednesday in a car bomb blast near a military checkpoint east of the Yemeni capital Sana'a, a local security official told AP. The anonymous official said the attack appears to have been carried out by Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch. Security in the country has been damaged due to a popular uprising that began last year. Its goal was to depose US-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since its unification in 1990. Saleh is currently undergoing treatment in the US for injuries sustained in a bombing attack blast last year. His deputy is to be rubber-stamped as the country’s new leader in elections on February 21.
A spokeswoman for the US State Department has denied allegations that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been in talks with the White House to succeed current World Bank President Robert Zoellick; the White House also denied the claims. A source close to Clinton had previously told Reuters that she wanted the job. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is also speculated to be a candidate to succeed Zoellick after he leaves his post in June. Traditionally, World Bank Presidents have been US nationals, while IMF managing directors come from Europe.
Mexican federal prosecutors have detained four people they say lured teenage Mexican women into the United States to force them into prostitution. The suspects were all members of the same family, and are said to be members of a gang based in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Prosecutors say they were responsible for transporting unsuspecting women between the ages of 15 and 18 to New York, where they were exploited in an underground prostitution ring. Police are still on the lookout for four more suspects and have already rescued five women.
The world famous whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks has condemned UNESCO for excluding it from a conference about itself. The two-day conference - which currently lists some 37 speakers - will take place in Paris, but American organizers blocked all speakers affiliated with WikiLeaks from participating. "UNESCO must conduct a full, frank and open investigation as to how its constitution, which tasks it to promote freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of communication, has become a blunt instrument of censorship,” Julian Assange commented on the situation.
Eurozone finance officials are considering delaying parts or even all of the second bailout plan for Greece, EU sources said on Wednesday. However, he EU will still try to avoid the country’s disorderly default. The delay could possibly last until after Greek elections expected in April. “There are proposals to delay the Greek package or to split it, so that an immediate default is avoided,” a source told Reuters. Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the European Parliament urged EU leaders to plan an “orderly withdrawal” of Greece from the single currency. He said the next EU summit on March 1 should not seek more cures for the Greek economic crisis.
Prosecutors have demanded a five-year prison sentence for former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi in his trial on corruption charges. Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale asked the court on Wednesday to find the former PM guilty of having paid a British lawyer $600,000 to lie in other trials. Those proceedings involve charges of tax evasion and false accounting during Berlusconi’s business career. Other cases pending against him in the Milan courts include a trial on charges of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute. Berlusconi stepped down as the Premier in November last year.
Tehran has started using new advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment site. A “new generation of Iranian centrifuges” has been installed and operated at the Natanz site, the semi-official Fars agency reported on Wednesday. On the same day, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad started the process of loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into a Tehran research reactor. Western countries have imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
The Honduran Attorney General’s office says at least 357 people died in a fire at a prison in Comayagua. The city is about 75 kilometres north of the capital Tegucigalpa. A massive fire broke out on Tuesday night at the prison which housed more than 800 inmates. Reuters quotes Daniel Orellana, head of the prison system, as saying that there was no riot.
Iran announced on Wednesday it has begun loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into a research reactor in Tehran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led Wednesday’s ceremony broadcast live on state television. Earlier in the day, Iranian state media said Tehran has cut oil exports to six European countries in response to European Union sanctions. The EU had imposed an oil embargo over concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Iran insists it is developing the program for peaceful purposes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow may support a UN General Assembly resolution on Syria if the document takes Moscow’s stance into account. "We are discussing measures to reach consensus,” Lavrov said on Wednesday. He warned the resolution will not help if it is one-sided and “ignores the killings by the Syrian opposition.” The UN General Assembly will discuss the resolution on Syria on Thursday. Lavrov also welcomed the decision of the Syrian leadership to hold a referendum on a new constitution. If adopted, it could end the one party in the country.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has urged Israel to refrain from military action against Iran. A military strike could be “extremely dangerous” and would escalate the current situation, Noda said. He was meeting in Tokyo with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Israeli politician did not comment on his country’s possible actions against Iran. On Tuesday, Jerusalem accused Iran of staging a series of explosions targeting Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned he will approve the release of any Taliban from the Guantanamo Bay military prison only if he’s sure they won’t return to the battlefield. The Obama administration is considering the release of five top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo. This could be a starting point for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that no decisions have been made on the release.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has joined the micro-blogging website Twitter. Later on Wednesday he is expected to announce the start of his re-election campaign. In his first tweet, the President said he was happy to launch his Twitter account. Sarkozy said he had accepted TF1's invitation to appear on the 8pm news tonight. After launching his campaign, Sarkozy will face about a dozen opponents in the first round of voting on April 22. The run-off is scheduled for May 6.
A fire at a prison has left more than 270 people dead and 40 injured. The fire broke out on Tuesday night at a prison in the town of Comayagua, said the head of the national prison system, Danilo Orellana. Media reports say more than 500 inmates were kept at the prison. Many of them were unable to escape the fire when it broke out. It is not clear whether the incident was caused by a riot or an electrical short-circuit.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered a referendum on a new constitution for February 26. State television said on Wednesday that Assad has agreed to the referendum. He formed a national committee to draft the new constitution in October last year. The body included 29 lawyers, academics, and public figures. Last week, the draft constitution was submitted to the president. The document reportedly envisages the introduction of multi-party system and allows one seven-year Presidential term.
The first Presidential election in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown a year ago will be held by late May. The Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mohamed Attia told the state newspaper al-Ahram that candidates would be given three weeks to declare their intention to run, and 45 days of campaigning. Most candidates have already started unofficial campaigns. Egypt’s military rulers seem to have accelerated the planned handover of power by about a month.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will not resign, the country’s ambassador to Russia said on Wednesday. Riyad Haddad told reporters that Damascus was categorically against the presence of international peacekeepers on its territory. Haddad stressed the actions of the armed Syrian opposition have nothing to do with democratic aspirations. “This is the work of armed terrorist groups that are being funded from outside,” he said, as cited by Interfax. The envoy accused the armed opposition forces of trying to “destroy the Syrian statehood.”
Pakistan has temporarily allowed NATO to ship perishable food through its territory to troops in Afghanistan. The decision to reopen the supply line is a sign of thawing tensions with the US. American airstrikes last November accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Following the attack, Pakistan closed its border, which caused coalition forces to use alternative routes. But Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar says the government would allow NATO to ship perishable food for a limited time. Islamabad has asked the coalition not to order any more goods.
An oil pipeline in the Syrian city of Homs has reportedly been damaged resulting in a huge fire. The pipeline was attacked on Wednesday morning in the neighbourhood of Baba Amr, the Local Co-ordination Committee says. One of Syria’s two oil refineries is located in Homs. Syrian pipelines have been attacked several times in recent months. Opposition activists say Baba Amr has been shelled by government troops for the past 12 days.
Thai investigators are examining a possible link between explosions in Bangkok and bomb attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia this week. A man believed to be Iranian was badly injured by a bomb he was carrying in Bangkok on Tuesday. Earlier on that day, another bomb went off at a house he was renting. Israel says Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are behind those attacks. Tehran denies its involvement. On Monday, an Israeli diplomats’ car was bombed in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Another attack was thwarted in Tbilisi, Georgia. Thai National Security Council Secretary Wichian Podphosri said a magnet used by bombers in Bangkok looked similar to ones found in the Indian bombing and in the device defused in Georgia.
More than twenty people have been injured in a fire at a café in the Russian city of Volgograd. The fire started on Tuesday evening according to the Emergencies Ministry. Seventeen of the injured were taken to hospital; three of them are in a serious condition. The people living in the building which housed the café have been moved to a nearby hotel. A preliminary investigation suggests the fire was caused by a gas cylinder explosion in the basement of the three-storey building.
The Australian House of Representatives, the country’s lower chamber of parliament, narrowly approved a tax hike on higher-income citizens, with 71 votes for and 70 against. The hike is expected to cost wealthy Australians some 2.4 billion Australian dollars ($2.6 billion) over the next three years, and will help the government meet its pledge to deliver a budget surplus of 1.5 billion Australian dollars for the next fiscal year. The legislation will also limit the availability of a tax rebate on health insurance premiums to lower- and middle-income earners. It will now be sent to the Senate, the country’s upper chamber, where its passage is virtually guaranteed.
A draft UN General Assembly resolution censuring the Syrian government for human rights violations, backing the Arab League’s plan aimed at ending the conflict, was circulated by Egypt on Tuesday. The nonbinding draft resolution calls on President Bashar al-Assad’s government to cease violence, release detainees, withdraw armed forces from cities and allow peaceful demonstrations and unhindered access for Arab League monitors and foreign media. The resolution is expected to be put to a vote in the 193-member General Assembly on Thursday.