The United States has declared a natural disaster in more than 1,000 drought-stricken counties in 26 states on Thursday. The declaration covers most of the country’s south-west, which has extensively suffered from wildfires, parts of the midwestern “corn belt”, and the south-east. The decision means that farmers from the affected areas are eligible for government assistance. This year’s drought is the most expansive in more than a decade, with some 56 per cent of the country being affected.
Nine climbers have been killed by an avalanche and 11 others injured on Thursday in Mont Blanc ski resort in the French Alps. Those who died were from the UK, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Police said four other climbers originally reported missing were found later.
Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that Internet providers do not have to pay copyright fees when their consumers download or preview music. The judgments are based on two of five cases related to copyright matters which the court has been considering. Lawyers claim the ruling is a big blow to composers, as they will lose a percentage of their royalties. However, streaming music will still be subject to fees.
Russia wants Ukraine to pay market prices for its supplies, but Ukraine refuses to accept the price hike. After a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin told reporters that “both Russian ‘Gazprom’ and Ukrainian ‘Naftogaz’ will try their best to find common ground.”
The US is increasing its financial sanctions against Iran, blacklisting 11 firms and four individuals - an Austrian national and three Iranians. They are suspected of being linked to what the US claims was an effort to acquire nuclear weapons. The US Treasury Department also identified a number of Iranian "front companies and banks" that contributed to nuclear proliferation, including energy firms based in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Malaysia. The US, along with the EU, has already imposed sanctions against Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
More than 100 people are now reported to have died after a gasoline tanker crashed on the east-west road in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger delta on Thursday. The tanker caught fire as people tried to scoop up the fuel, Reuters reports, citing witnesses.
Dozens of militants from Afghanistan took scores of villagers hostage in Pakistan's northwest on Thursday, Pakistani officials said. The cross-border attack appeared to be targeting members of an anti-Taliban militia in Kitkot village near Bajur tribal area, said Tariq Khan, a local government official. The militants came from Afghanistan's Kunar province and took hundreds of villagers hostage, Khan said. In the fighting between the Pakistani army and the gunmen, eight militants and two militiamen were killed. Soldiers have retrieved scores of villagers, but dozens more are still held by the militants, AP said. In the eastern city of Lahore, Taliban gunmen earlier opened fire on a compound housing policemen, killing nine of them.
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region 40 km of Jarm, Afghanistan, on Thursday. The US Geological Survey said the big quake was felt in regions up to 400-500 km from the capital, Kabul. Pakistan’s media reports said an earthquake with the epicenter in the Hindu Kush region shook parts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The earthquake was felt in the capital Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Sargodha, Chitral and Haripur. Panic was reported in some areas.
Britain's spies were wrong-footed by the spread of unrest during the Arab Spring, failing to predict the uprisings, Parliament's intelligence and security committee said on Thursday. The panel of nine lawmakers - the intelligence watchdog - said in its annual report that the crisis had exposed Britain's decision to scale back intelligence assets in the Middle East. The heads of the intelligence agency MI6 and global eavesdropping service GCHQ acknowledged that a focus on Al-Qaeda and Iran's nuclear program meant their coverage across some parts of the Arab world had dwindled, AP said. “We can't cover everything all the time in the modern world,” Defense Intelligence representatives told lawmakers.
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to re-open graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. The previous prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, was disqualified from his job by the Supreme Court last month after he was convicted of contempt of court. The court said Gilani had failed to resume work on the cases against the president, the head the ruling Pakistan People's Party. Ashraf, who recently replaced Gilani, was told by the court to submit a report on compliance with its orders by July 25, Reuters said. Thousands of corruption cases were thrown out in 2007 under an amnesty law passed by former leader Pervez Musharraf.
Penn State's internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal has said senior leaders disregarded the safety and welfare of his victims. An eight-month inquiry by former FBI director Louis Freeh, hired by university trustees, resulted in a 267-page report. Freeh was tasked with uncovering the school's failings in stopping Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, from offending. The report also address broader issues including the influence wielded by the late coach Joe Paterno and the balance of power among athletics, school administrators and trustees, AP said. Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts. The Penn State University sex-abuse scandal, one of sports' biggest, led to the ouster of Paterno and the school's president.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and their Great Lakes region neighbors have agreed on a plan to “eradicate” armed groups in eastern Congo. The document was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa by nearly a dozen regional states, as their delegations met on the sidelines of an African Union summit, Reuters said. They agreed to tackle a rebellion in Congo's North Kivu province, which has displaced thousand of civilians. “The most important thing is putting it into effect,” Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N'tungamulongo said.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he will not return to politics. He announced in Tel Aviv on Thursday he has “no intention of entering politics,” AP said. Olmert was acquitted of the main charges in a corruption trial two days ago and was convicted only on a lesser charge of steering government contracts to a friend's clients. His close aide Jacob Galanti said earlier that Olmert would not decide whether to re-enter politics until his trial in a separate real estate bribery case ends.
Seven people have been killed in the crash of a military plane chartered by a Canadian mining company in Mauritania. An aviation official said the plane caught fire shortly after taking off on Thursday from an airstrip in Nouakchott, the West African nation's capital. The pilot attempted to return to the runway but failed to reach it. Three military crew members, two customs officials and two civilian passengers aboard died instantly, AP reports. The plane was bound for the Tasiast gold mine some 200 kilometers north of the capital.
At least 92 people were killed after a gasoline tanker crashed on the east-west road in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta on Thursday. The tanker caught fire as people tried to scoop up the fuel, Reuters reports, citing witnesses. "Early this morning a tanker loaded with petrol fell in Okogbe and people trooped to the scene obviously to scoop the spilled fuel and suddenly there was fire resulting in casualties," Rivers State police spokesman Ben Ugwuegbulam said.
Afghanistan's president has called on the Taliban to relinquish their weapons. Hamid Karzai also asked the militant group's leader Mullah Omar to join the political process, AP reports. Karzai's appeal on Thursday was the latest in a series he has recently made. However, all requests in the past have been ignored by the militants who refuse to engage the government directly. The Taliban have held negotiations directly with American officials, but broke off talks earlier this year.
Romania's prime minister was meeting with top EU officials on Thursday to explain the president's impeachment by parliament. The EU has raised concerns about the hurried manner in which the ouster was carried out. Prime Minister Victor Ponta vowed to implement any EU recommendations regarding the removal of Romanian President Traian Basescu, AP said. “Basescu…blocked laws made by the new majority [in parliament] and the government,” Ponta said. The Romanian parliament is dominated by Ponta backers. The EU has warned that the political turmoil in Romania may delay the country's entry to the EU's Schengen open-border agreement.
The defecting Syrian ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, is currently in Qatar, Iraq's foreign minister said on Thursday. Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters in Paris the defection by al-Fares on Wednesday came as a surprise, Reuters reports. The ambassador was considered loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Fares was the first senior diplomat to quit the government. Zebari was in Paris to inaugurate a new embassy.
Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic was taken to hospital on Thursday as a precaution after being taken ill in court, according to a spokeswoman for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. “Mladic was feeling unwell and he was taken to a hospital as a precautionary measure,” AFP quoted Nerma Jelacic as saying. Mladic's trial on 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity was adjourned for the day. The first witnesses began testifying this week against the former general, who denies any wrongdoing.
Security forces fired mortars into a district on the outskirts of Damascus on Thursday, activists said. This is the first time an area in the Syrian capital has been shelled since the start of the 16-month-old uprising, Reuters reports. Activists in the Kafar Souseh neighborhood of Damascus said security forces were firing mortars into orchards on the outskirts of the city, close to the capital's southern highway. They reportedly tried to force out rebels they believe are hiding there.
At least six people were killed on Thursday by an avalanche in the Alps' Mont Blanc massif, French mountain police said. Eight others were injured, AFP reports. Emergency services were dispatched to the scene. One of the injured sounded the alert at around 03:25 GMT. The avalanche on Mont Maudit, the massif's third-highest peak, hit several roped groups of climbers.
Turkey has found no traces of explosives on the wreckage of a fighter jet it has claimed was downed by Syria. “No traces of explosives or flammable products were found on the debris recovered from the sea,” a statement from Turkey's general staff said on Wednesday. Other material is still being examined, the statement said, as cited by AFP. For the first time the army declined to use the term “shot down by Syria.” It referred instead to “our plane that Syria claimed to have destroyed.” Turkey has previously said that the F-4 Phantom was shot down in international airspace over the eastern Mediterranean by Syrian fire on June 22. The two-man crew was killed in the incident.
At least six people died and 50,000 were ordered to evacuate as the heaviest rainfall on record pounded the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu. Officials said on Thursday that 18 people were missing. There were multiple reports of mudslides swallowing houses, and roads blocked by mud or gushing water. Nearly 500 millimeters of rain felling in the eight hours to 8am local time on Thursday in some parts. Kumamoto and Oita prefectures had the heaviest rain that the region has ever experienced, according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
The Israeli military says artillery and aircraft have fired at Palestinian militants preparing to launch an antitank missile. The militants allegedly targeted Israeli soldiers patrolling the Israel-Gaza border. Three people were wounded in Thursday's attack, including one man who was critically hurt, Gaza health official Dr. Ashraf el-Kidra said, as cited by AP. The Israeli military claimed that the men were militants from Gaza's ruling Hamas group. Meanwhile, military bulldozers were leveling land in the buffer area along the border, and tank machine guns firing were heard.
Sudanese national Ibrahim al-Qosi, the former cook of slain Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, returned Wednesday to his native country. He completed a shortened sentence for aiding Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He will spend some time in a government-sponsored reintegration program in the capital, Khartoum, before returning to his hometown, AP reports. Al-Qosi, 52, was captured and sent to the US base in Cuba in early 2002. His release brings the prison population down to 168.
Nine Pakistani policemen have been killed and nine others were wounded during a militant raid on a building in the eastern city of Lahore, police said. The building serves as dormitory to some 35 police and prison staff, mostly officers from northwestern Pakistan, who came to the city for training.
For the first time in fifty years, a cargo vessel has left the US port of Miami to sail directly to the Cuban capital, AFP reports. According to the company officials, it is carrying a cargo of humanitarian supplies for charitable, religious and humanitarian groups, as well as family members of people in Cuba. The company, International Port Corp, says it had to obtain a special permit from US authorities to comply with the US trade embargo on Cuba.
Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, says he has joined the revolution and urges others to join. In a video statement to Al Jazeera, Nawaf al-Fares said that his decision came in the wake of what he described as a horrible massacre committed against the Syrian people by the regime. "I announced my resignation as Syrian ambassador to Iraq as I also declare my defection from the Syrian Baath Party," he said on Wednesday. A veteran of Assad's rule who held senior positions under the late president Hafez Assad, Fares also called upon the military to join the Syrian uprising.