Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is expected to remove the ban on women serving in combat, AP reports citing a senior defense official on Wednesday. The removal of the 1994 rule gives female troops the prospect of frontline positions and potentially elite commando jobs, after more than a decade of war. Panetta's decision has given the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.
The parliament of Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia has passed a declaration stating the region is a sovereign entity. The mostly symbolic move will potentially pave the way for a future referendum on independence from Spain. Madrid has promised to block any move towards Catalonian independence.
Italy’s government signed a decree on Wednesday establishing a structure for national security to protect critical infrastructure from increasing cyber assaults, Mario Monti's cabinet said. In recent years the number of cyber-attacks has risen significantly the government said, citing data from the information technology organization Assinform. The main reason for the successful attacks is the improper set-up of the security systems.
About 100,000 public sector employees held a strike in Slovenia on Wednesday over a plan to lay off workers and cut wages by some 5 percent this year, adding to a cut of around 3 percent in 2012. Almost all schools, kindergartens and universities in the country were closed and hospitals were offering limited care with reduced staff. The strike occurred amid a corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who was unable to explain the source of some of his income to the anti-corruption commission. The scandal could strip the ruling party of its majority in parliament as some are threatening to quit the alliance unless Jansa resigns
Algerian militants involved in the desert gas plant attack in Algeria this month had weapons from Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Senate hearing into the September 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. She is quoted as saying, "There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have weapons from Libya." At least 37 hostages died in the terrorist seizure of a natural gas plant in Algeria, three of them were Americans. The attackers demanded France withdraw troops from Mali, where fighting rages against an Islamic insurgency.
Tokyo on Wednesday said it had confirmed the deaths of two more Japanese nationals in last week's hostage siege at an Algerian gas plant. This brings the country's total toll to nine, with one still unaccounted for. “Unfortunately, we have been able to confirm two more deaths,” AFP quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying. On Monday, Japan said it knew for certain that seven of its nationals had been killed when Islamist gunmen attacked the desert plant. Three more people were missing. “We firmly condemn acts of terror,” Suga said, adding that Japan would continue to do its utmost to confirm the fate of the final person.
At least two dozen people were injured in Dailekh, 300 km west of the capital Kathmandu, as police forces used tear gas on opponents of Nepal's Maoist prime minister. The protestants set the party office on fire and blocked main roads leading into the town. Activists from seven opposition parties called for the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to resign after parliament failed to finalize a new constitution last year and bring stability to the country.
A government panel in India tasked with reviewing sex crime laws proposed tougher jail terms on Wednesday. The maximum sentence for gang rape should be raised to a full life term, said Gopal Subramanium, a member of the panel. Panel head, Justice J.S. Verma, however rejected the idea of the death penalty for rape cases, calling for the public functionaries responsible for the implementation of law and order to deal with the failure of performance. India's penal code currently stipulates rapists should serve a minimum of seven years in prison and a maximum life term, which is normally commuted to 10-14 years in practice.
Israeli Defense Forces officers shot and wounded two Palestinian women Wednesday north of the West Bank city of Hebron, the military said. Initial investigation reveals that an IDF officer was ambushed by fire bombs near the Al-Aroub refugee camp and opened fire, wounding two women, Haaretz daily said. One woman was lightly wounded and the other lies critically wounded in a hospital in Hebron. The IDF confirmed the incident. The army squad was allegedly ambushed by firebombs and rocks on Highway 60 near the Al-Aroub refugee camp and opened fire, fearing for their lives.
A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a Shiite Muslim Sayida al-Shuhada mosque in northern Iraq on Wednesday, police said. The attack in the city of Tuz Khurmatu left at least 35 people killed and 70 others wounded, AFP reported. They were attending a funeral there, according to police.
Moroccan officials could alter a disputed statutory rape law that favors the perpetrator, excusing them from several years in prison if they engage in wedlock with their underage victim, the Justice Ministry said. The suicide in 2012 of 16-year-old rape victim Amina Filali, who was forced to marry her attacker, sparked calls for the law to be changed.
President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will offer humanitarian and financial aid to Lebanon to cope with refugees fleeing Syria. Moscow could render a direct financial assistance, he told Lebanese President Michel Sleiman at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday. Russia is also ready to send tents and medicine, Putin said. "We will do our utmost to ... sponsor the organization of an international conference on the refugee problem," he said.
The government of Bahrain said on Wednesday the talks with the opposition would proceed to break nearly two years of political deadlock. The authorities will expect opposition groups to nominate representatives to the talks after an invitation from the king, Reuters reported. The negotiations could start soon provided that all parties are “very serious” about dialogue, Information Minister Samira Rajab said. “Their statement was positive,” Rajab said of the opposition's acceptance of the invitation. “The government won't be represented there. They will be the moderators, the regulator,” she said. Protests led by majority Shiite Muslims have demanded democratic change in the Sunni-led monarchy since early 2011.
Local officials in northern Nigeria say that at least 23 people have been killed by gunmen targeting “anti-Islamic gamblers” and “forbidden meat traders.” Gunmen opened fire at a market in the town of Damboa late on Monday, targeting local hunters who sell bush meat from animals such as monkeys and pigs, Reuters quoted official Alhaji Abba Ahmed as saying. Gunmen suspected to be members of Islamist sect Boko Haram “came to the town market and shot dead 13 local hunters on the spot while five others died from their injuries at the hospital,” he said. In a separate attack in the north’s biggest city of Kano on Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram militants riding on motorbikes shot dead five people playing an outdoor board game and wounded two others.
An Islamist militant slain during the siege of Algeria’s In Amenas gas complex used to be a driver at the desert facility, a security source said on Wednesday. “One of the killed assailants had worked as a driver for one of the companies operating within the complex,” the source told AFP. He allegedly resigned a year ago. The four-day siege last week ended in a bloodbath. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that 37 foreign hostages and 29 militants were killed.
Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has been cleared of professional misconduct in exchanging emails with a civilian woman linked to the sex scandal involving former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was informed of the conclusion by the Pentagon's inspector general. “The secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday. He added Panetta has “complete confidence in the continued leadership” of Allen. The FBI last year turned up thousands of emails between Allen and Jill Kelley, who was said to have received threatening emails from Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ biographer.
Spain's recession deepened in the fourth quarter of 2012, the Bank of Spain said Wednesday, citing preliminary estimates to be confirmed next week. The economy shrank by 0.6 per cent compared with the previous three-month period. It was the sixth quarter in a row that the economy contracted, and it shrank 1.3 per cent for the whole of 2012. Economic activity was down 1.7 per cent in the fourth quarter from the same period the previous year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Israel and the West on Wednesday against any military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites. He described attempts to prepare and implement strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and on its infrastructure as a “very, very dangerous idea.” Moscow hopes such ideas will not be fulfilled, the minister added. He also said that Tehran could agree “a little bit faster” on a document with the UN nuclear watchdog for inspectors to gain access to Iranian sites and officials. Lavrov said he was confident a new round of talks between Iran and six world powers would be held, but added that a venue had not yet been agreed upon.
Tehran has reportedly suggested that the next round of nuclear talks with world powers should take place in Cairo. “When I was in Egypt… it was suggested that the next meeting be held in Cairo,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, as cited by ISNA on Wednesday. Egypt will consult with six world powers for hosting this meeting. The last round of negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program was held in Moscow in June 2012. Geneva, Istanbul and “some other cities” were earlier cited as possible venues for talks.
Japan said Wednesday it would temporarily shut its embassy in Mali and evacuate staff “due to the worsening security in the country.” The staff will continue the operation in the embassy in France, a Foreign Ministry statement said, AFP reported. Tokyo also urged other Japanese to leave Mali. The previous day, Japan said at least seven of its citizens were killed in a hostage crisis in neighboring Algeria.
Lebanon’s Army command said 12 Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace between Tuesday evening and dawn on Wednesday. “Breaching Lebanon’s sovereignty and [United Nations] Resolution 1701, 12 warplanes of the Israeli enemy breached Lebanon’s airspace,” the statement said. The warplanes reportedly flew over some Lebanese regions. The UN Resolution 1701 urges Israel to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Japan is expected to launch a new spy satellite on Sunday to strengthen its monitoring capabilities. A rocket carrying a radar-equipped satellite will blast off from a space center at Tanegashima in the southwest, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced. The satellite would be used for information-gathering, including data following Japan's 2011 quake and tsunami, but did not mention North Korea by name, AFP reported. Pyongyang earlier rejected dialogue on its atomic program following tightened UN sanctions for a banned rocket launch.
Some 1,484 polling stations in Jordan opened Wednesday for 12 hours from 7am (04:00 GMT) in a vote boycotted by Islamists. Tribal leaders and other pro-regime figures, along with independent businessmen, are expected to form an opposition-free parliament, AFP said. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the National Reform Front of former premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat are staying away from the polls in the country of 6.8 million people. Around 2.3 million Jordanians are eligible to vote, choosing from 1,425 candidates, including 191 women. The lower house of parliament has 150 seats.
A farm strike in South Africa's grape-growing Western Cape has been suspended, farm industry groups said on Wednesday. The groups said workers had for now given up on their demands for higher wages, Reuters reported. The move followed three weeks of labor unrest as protesters shut highways and damaged farms in the Cape Town region.
Prominent Thai activist and magazine editor Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday for defaming Thailand's monarchy. The veteran editor was convicted of publishing two articles in an anti-establishment magazine that made negative references to the crown. Judges said both pieces in now-defunct Voice of Taksin magazine contained content that defamed the royal family. Rights groups demand that Somyot, who has been jailed since 2011, be freed. The EU said the verdict “seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression and press freedom” in Thailand.
North Korea blasted the UN Security Council's condemnation of its December launch of a long-range rocket. The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the launch was not a test of long-range missile technology. But North Korea will now “counter the US hostile policy with strength, not with words,” the ministry warned, adding that Pyongyang will “bolster the military capabilities for self-defense including the nuclear deterrence.” There was no indication on Wednesday of an imminent nuclear test, but experts warned earlier of continued activity at North Korea's underground nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.
An earthquake with 5.1 magnitude shuddered Liaoyang and Shenyang in northeast China on Wednesday at 12:18 pm Beijing Time, reports China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC). The epicenter of the quake has been registered at the depth of only about 7km.
The group of 77 Russian citizens evacuated from Syria have arrived in Moscow on two planes provided by the Russian Emergencies Ministry. On Monday the ministry sent two planes to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, to evacuate Russian citizens who decided to leave conflict-torn Syria. Russians from Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama were transported to Beirut by buses and accompanied by employees of the Russian embassy in Damascus. The group mostly consists of women and children.
Tina Marie Alberson, whose ten-year-old stepson died after she refused to let him drink water as a punishment despite 100-plus degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures, was convicted of reckless injury to a child in a Texas court Tuesday. Jonathan James died in July 2011. James' brother Joseph testified that though he feared for Jonathan's health, he was too afraid of Alberson to speak up. The boy's father, who testified against Alberson, will face the same charges in court next month.