France has adopted a draft law that would legalize same-sex marriage and paved the way for allowing gay couples to adopt. President Francois Hollande, who made civil rights for France's gay community a central issue in his election campaign, has told the Cabinet that the reform would benefit all of society. Parliament will vote on the proposal by mid-2013. If passed, France would become the world's twelfth country to implement marriage equality.
A strong earthquake has hit the Pacific coast of Guatemala, the US geological survey has reports. It rocked the capital with shocks felt as far away as Mexico City an El Salvador. The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said there was a possibility of a local tsunami within 100-200 miles from the epicenter, but that they were not issuing an immediate warning for the region. There are no immediate reports of significant damage or injury.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 200 points on Wednesday after the EU confirmed earlier predictions that the eurozone will tumble into a recession soon. US stock futures declined sharply Wednesday, AP reported. The EU now expects the region’s gross domestic product to contract by 0.3 percent on an annual basis this year, rather than remaining flat as it predicted in the spring. The recovery will take more time, and the European Commission said the euro economy will expand 0.1 percent in 2013, down from a May forecast of 1 percent. The forecast for Germany was cut to 0.8 percent from 1.7 percent.
Politicians in Tehran said on Wednesday the reelection of the US President Barack Obama is unlikely to lead to a normalization of relations between the two states. “Four years ago, Obama was elected on a platform for change… but he acted otherwise and unprecedented sanctions were imposed,” Fars news agency quoted judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani as saying. “An overnight resumption of relations is not possible,” he said. But his brother, Mohammad Javad Larijani, told ISNA news agency that negotiating with Washington “is not taboo.” He noted that any decision to renew direct contact “is a prerogative of the Supreme Leader.”
The Taliban announced Wednesday that the newly reelected President Barack Obama and US authorities “must by now know that they have lost the war in Afghanistan.” Taliban media spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid also said that “without further lying and delays, they should leave our sacred land,” AFP reported. The US should “stop acting like police in the world and focus on solving their own people’s problems,” a statement posted on the Taliban's website read.
Norwegian oil company Statoil evacuated 326 oil rig workers from a North Sea platform on Wednesday after it began to tilt. One of the rig’s floating pontoons started taking on water, and most of the 374 people on the ‘Floatel Superior’ were airlifted out by helicopter, AP quoted company spokesman Ole Anders Skauby as saying. There was reportedly no immediate danger to the life and safety of the workers. The Njord field is located some 130 kilometers northwest of the city of Kristiansund off the Norwegian coast.
The Czech government survived a confidence vote Wednesday over planned austerity measures. In the 101 to 93 vote, lawmakers approved a one percent sales tax hike on retail goods and a seven percent income tax increase for high earners, the AP said. The plan aims to bring the budget deficit below three percent of GDP. In September, the Czech parliament rejected the austerity package, and six legislators from Prime Minister Petr Necas’ party voted against it. The country’s ruling coalition government would have collapsed if Wednesday's vote had not passed.
A six-story shopping mall has collapsed in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, minutes before it was due to open for business. The exact number of fatalities is unknown, but reports claim at least three dead and around 200 people trapped in the rubble. Rescue efforts are already underway, with police and firefighters working to pull people out of the ruins. The reason for the disaster is unclear.
Russia will invest about $10 billion in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Vietnam, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday, calling it a “pilot project.” The two nations had reached a basic consensus on the deal, though certain details still need to be discussed, the PM said in Hanoi. Moscow and Hanoi will also continue talks on the use of the former Soviet Union’s naval base in Kamran. Medvedev explained that the former military base would be used for civilian purposes, Interfax reported.
Cyprus will resume talks with potential creditors on forging a bailout agreement later this week, the government said on Wednesday. A negotiating team from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is due to arrive on Thursday, AP said, citing government spokesperson Stefanos Stefanou. The negotiations are expected to restart on Friday, ending uncertainty over when the negotiations would resume. Cyprus faces a budgetary shortfall by the end of year and hopes to ink an agreement on an estimated $14 to 21.7 billion in bailout loans.
Turkey is reportedly in talks with allies, including the US, about deploying Patriot missiles to protect a zone inside Syria. The move is one of several scenarios Ankara believes could help the Syrian opposition, the AP quoted an anonymous Foreign Ministry official as saying on Wednesday. The talks are likely to resume now that US elections are over. Earlier, Ankara planned a request to NATO to deploy a Patriot missile defense system in its territory in case of more “attacks from Syria.”
US oil giant Exxon Mobil has expressed its intent to pull out of a major oil field development project in Iraq’s south, Iraqi oil ministry official Abdul-Mahdi al-Ameedi said on Wednesday. Al-Ameedi’s statement is the fist public report of the company’s desire to exit the 8.6-billion barrel West Qurna Phase 1 project, the AP said. The official claimed the company wants to sell “its whole share or part of it to other companies and leave West Qurna.” Exxon Mobil has not commented on the report. Iraq's central government had previously threatened the oil company with tough penalties after the company signed up late last year to search for oil in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Syria’s main opposition bloc will elect two leadership bodies and a president during a Wednesday conference in the Qatari capital Doha. The Syrian National Council has previously been criticized as a group dominated by exiles, and not representative of the wider opposition. Around 420 members are taking part in the SNC general assembly. The US and other Western states have called for a more unified and organized Syrian opposition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Barack Obama on his victory in the US presidential elections. The Kremlin took the election results “very positively,” Interfax quoted presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying on Wednesday. Putin will soon congratulate Obama personally in a telephone call, Peskov said. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described Obama as a “clear and predictable partner” for Russia, and called him a “successful president” who led the country during a period of global economic crisis.
The UK plans to begin talks with Syria’s armed opposition groups, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Wednesday. Foreign Secretary William Hague reportedly “authorized diplomats to have direct contact with military figures on the ground” through secret communication links. The UK government said the initiative was aimed at opening political dialogue, not arming the rebels, AFP reported. The move is seen by some as a Western attempt to organize the rebels to unify, rather than fight as separate groups.
The Latvian government has approved a draft bill on the introduction of the euro in the Baltic country. The bill, drafted by the Finance Ministry, speculates that prices would be indicated in both the euro and current currency, the lat, for three months before joining the eurozone and six months afterwards. Both currencies will also be valid for two weeks after the introduction of the euro, scheduled to be introduced on January 1, 2014. The bill has yet to be approved by the parliament and the president.
Police detained a man who shot and killed five people on Chermyanskaya Street in northeastern Moscow on Wednesday. Several people were also wounded in the incident. A criminal investigation has been opened, the Investigative Committee said. The suspect, a young lawyer for a pharmaceutical company, attacked his colleagues after he was rejected by a woman he loved and then went on a five-day drinking binge, Interfax reported, citing police sources.
A magnitude 5.5 quake hit northwest Iran on Wednesday morning, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. The earthquake was centered 51.5 kilometers north-northeast of Tabriz at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the USGS.
Iran has reportedly impounded a Saudi Arabian fishing vessel in the southern waters off the coast of Iran’s Bushehr Province. Colonel Qalandar Lashkari, the commander of the Bushehr coast guard, said that the vessel was detained on Tuesday after entering Iran’s territorial waters, Press TV said. Lashkari did not elaborate further. The two states share a coastline on the Persian Gulf, with Iran controlling most of the northern coast and Saudi Arabia controlling most of the southern one.
A suicide bombing in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Wednesday has killed five people, including three police officers, officials said. The attack targeted the vehicle of a senior officer outside a police station in a crowded market. The officer, two other police and two bystanders were killed in the blast, and 20 people were wounded, the AP said. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Syria could become another Somalia if the conflict in the country is not ended soon, the UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria said Tuesday. Lakhdar Brahimi warned that Al-Qaeda extremists and warlords could become embroiled in a decade-long battle. “The situation in Syria is very dangerous,” Brahimi told pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. “I believe that if the crisis is not solved... there will be the danger of Somalization. It will mean the fall of the state, rise of warlords and militias.” Brahimi also warned that the continuing violence risks "exploding outward" into Lebanon, Turkey and Israel. The fighting is estimated to have killed more than 36,000 people.
Spain's Constitutional Court has reconfirmed the legality of gay marriage laws, rejecting an appeal contending that the institution of marriage is for heterosexuals only. The judges voted in an 8-3 ruling to dismiss the Popular Party case filed after Spain became the world's third country to legalize gay marriage. More than 22,000 same-sex unions have been registered in Spain.
Democrats are projected to maintain control of the US Senate as Republicans lost three key races, AP reported. Going into the election, Democrats needed to win 25 races to maintain their majority, and only 50 to 60 seats were considered competitive this time around, while the rest were called or conceded. Democrat Elizabeth Warren won a high-profile race against Republican Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Also, two Republicans lost after their campaigns were hampered by incendiary comments about rape and abortion: In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly defeated Republican Richard Mourdock; in Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill beat Republican representative Todd Akin.
The former Georgian Interior Minister has been detained and charged with abuse of power in connection with a recent prison torture scandal. Bachana Akhalaia resigned from office and fled the country on September 20 amid protests against torture and rapes in Georgian prisons. Upon his return and questioning, the prosecutors looking into the case accuse Akhalaia of promoting and fostering such behavior while in office. The scandal and protests erupted in late September as Georgia’s channel TV9 showed footage of a half-naked man being abused by two guards, who then reportedly raped the victim with a household object.
Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria has died of heart failure, aged 98, after leading the country’s Orthodox Christians for more than 40 years. Born Marin Naidenov Minkov in 1914, he graduated from the Sofia Seminary in 1935 and took up monastics in 1941 before being elected patriarch on July 4, 1971. He led the country through a difficult transition out of communism. Now the Holy Synod of 13 senior clergy members will appoint an interim head of the Church before a larger council, to be held within four months, picks a new successor, church officials said.