Much of Mexico City hit by earthquake; preliminary magnitude put at 7

MEXICO CITY – A powerful and long earthquake shook much of Mexico City early Friday, terrifying residents and sending many fleeing into the streets.

The Mexican Seismological Institute said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7, which would make it one of the stronger temblors registered in the city in several years. The epicenter was put near Tecpan, in the coastal state of Guerrero about 180 miles southwest of the capital.

Authorities were looking for damage and injuries. In some areas, telephone cell service was disrupted.

Much of Mexico City was destroyed and more than 10,000 people were killed in a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in 1985, but officials say they have put more safeguards into place since then.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancerra, who was in the middle of a Good Friday news conference when the quake struck, said “protocols” were being immediately launched in the sprawling capital, which include dispatching helicopters to survey the most vulnerable...

A  South Korea Navy boat tows a buoy to mark the sunken 6,852-ton ferry Sewol off the southern coast.

Arrest warrant sought for South Korea ferry captain

SEOUL, South Korea  — Prosecutors say they've asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for the captain of the South Korean ferry that sank two days ago, leaving hundreds missing and feared dead.

Prosecutors said Friday that they have also requested arrest warrants for two other crewmembers.

The investigation into the ferry disaster has focused on the sharp turn it took just before it started listing and whether a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives. Investigators are also determining whether the captain abandoned the ship.

PHOTOS: South Korea ferry sinks

Rescuers are struggling to find about 270 people still missing and feared dead.

At least 28 bodies have been recovered. Officials said there were 179 survivors and about 270 people remain missing, many of them high school students.


Oil slick not linked to missing jet, Australians say

Edward Snowden asks Putin on live TV: Does Russia spy on millions?

South Korea's response to ferry sinking assailed;...

Rescue crews prepare to search for passengers of a capsized ferry off Jindo, South Korea.

South Korea ferry sinking: School official found hanged

ANSAN, South Korea -- The vice principal of the high school that is missing more than 250 students and teachers in the wake of a ferry sinking committed suicide Friday afternoon, authorities said.

Kang Min-kyu, 52, had been traveling with the group of Danwon High School students and staff to Jeju Island when the ship sank Wednesday with 475 people aboard. He was rescued on one of the first boats, but most of the others from the school were not so fortunate.

So far, 11 Danwon students and three teachers are among the confirmed dead, but the toll is expected to rise sharply once divers can access the hull of the vessel, which remains submerged.

PHOTOS: South Korea ferry sinks

In all, 28 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, and 268 remain unaccounted for -- including 247 students and 11 teachers from Danwon.

Hundreds of divers from the military, coast guard and private firms continued trying to reach the inside of the ship Friday, but little progress was reported. The Sewol...


12 killed, 3 missing in Mt. Everest avalanche

KATMANDU, Nepal — An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak.

The Sherpa guides had gone early in the morning to fix ropes for other climbers when the avalanche hit just below Camp 2 at about 6:30 a.m., Nepal Tourism Ministry official Krishna Lamsal said from the base camp, where he is monitoring rescue efforts.

Rescue workers pulled out 12 bodies from under mounds of snow and ice and were searching for the three missing guides, Lamsal said.

Two injured Sherpas were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Nepal's capital, Katmandu.

Hundreds of climbers, their guides and support crews have gathered at the base camp to prepare for attempts to scale the 29,035-foot mountain early next month when weather conditions become favorable. They have been setting up camps at higher altitudes and guides have been fixing routes and ropes on the slopes...
Palestinian family members in the West bank town of Ramallah hold pictures of their relatives jailed in Israeli prisons as they mark Palestinian Prisoner Day.

Israeli arrest of Arab citizen over Lebanon visit angers rights groups

RAMALLAH, West Bank – An Arab Israeli citizen was arrested on charges of visiting an enemy state after the man returned from a trip to Lebanon, the Israeli government announced.

The April 12 detention of Majd Kayyal, 23, described as a freelance journalist and Web editor for a group that advocates for the Arab minority in Israel, angered human rights groups and others who have pushed to liberalize travel rules to neighboring Arab countries that Israel has labeled enemy states.

The announcement, made after a court lifting of a gag order on the case, came as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza marked Prisoner Day with rallies demanding freedom for the more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Prisoner support and advocacy groups say several hundred are held in administrative detention without charge or trial.

Kayyal, who is from the northern coastal town of Haifa, was arrested at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan, according to a statement from the rights group...

South Sudanese men try to construct shelters near burned out debris in Bor last month following clashes. On Thursday armed assailant attacked a U.N. peacekeeping camp in the town sheltering members of the Nuer ethnic group.

U.N. condemns attack on civilians at South Sudan peacekeepers base

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — At least 12 people were killed when an armed mob overran a United Nations peacekeeping camp in Bor, South Sudan, in an attack targeting ethnic Nuer.

South Sudan was torn by ethnic violence when the country's ruling party and army split along ethnic lines in December as a result of a political struggle. Fighting has continued on and off ever since, and peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia have failed to stem the violence.

U.N. officials strongly condemned Thursday's attack by armed men, some wearing military uniforms, on the U.N. base in Bor where about 5,000 Nuer had sought refuge from ethnic violence. Nuer are the second-largest group after the Dinka. 

Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, has changed hands several times since fighting broke out in December. In one attack this year most of the city was burned and looted. In another, Nuer militias invaded a hospital, killing those too weak to run away.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011. Despite...


Edward Snowden asks Putin on live TV: Does Russia spy on millions?

MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who was granted asylum in Russia, made a surprise appearance at President Vladimir Putin's annual televised call-in session Thursday to ask whether the country conducts mass surveillance like the United States does.

Snowden’s revelations about U.S. spying practices set off a national debate about the trade-offs between security and privacy.

“Recently in the United States, two independent White House investigations, as well as the federal court all concluded that these programs are ineffective in stopping terrorism,” Snowden said via video link from an undisclosed location.

“They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens -- individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity  -- and that these kinds of programs are not the least intrusive means available to such agencies for these investigative purposes.

“Now, I'...


Russia agrees to 'de-escalation' plan for Ukraine at Geneva talks

Russia staved off further Western sanctions over its support for separatist militants in eastern Ukraine by reaching an agreement with the top U.S., European and Ukrainian diplomats that aims to "de-escalate" tensions between the former Soviet republics without committing Russia to stay out of its neighbors domestic affairs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the state-run Itar-Tass news agency that the four powers meeting in Geneva had signed a document calling for "national dialogue" in Ukraine to iron out divisive differences between the European-leaning western half of the country and the eastern regions where a large ethnic Russian minority supports continued alliance with Moscow.

The four-party agreementcame as something of a surprise from the meeting, convened while tensions have been soaring in eastern Ukraine as Russian-speaking gunmen hold dozens of Ukrainian government sites and the ineffectual Ukrainian military has been unable to drive out the pro-Moscow...

A Bluefin-21 robotic submarine, shown hanging from a crane off the side of an Australian defense vessel, is being used in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Oil slick not linked to missing jet, Australians say

BEIJING — Australian authorities coordinating the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said Thursday that lab tests have shown that an oil slick found in the search area last Sunday is not aircraft engine fuel or hydraulic fluid.

Searchers are now using a robotic submarine, the Bluefin-21, to look for wreckage on the floor of the Indian Ocean more than 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia.

The Bluefin-21 has a rated depth of 4,500 meters, or 2.8 miles, and shortly after it was deployed on its first run this week, it returned to the surface several hours later because it reached that depth and an automatic safety system sent it back up.

However,  search coordinators said Thursday that the submarine’s owner-operator, Phoenix International, which has a contract with the U.S. Navy, has determined that the unmanned vehicle can operate at deeper depths.

“This expansion of the operating parameters allows the Bluefin-21 to search the sea floor within the predicted...


South Korea's response to ferry sinking assailed; captain apologizes

SEOUL – Angry relatives of passengers aboard a sunken South Korean ferry criticized the government’s response Thursday as the ship’s captain made an emotional apology for fleeing the vessel before hundreds of others had a chance to get out.

As of Thursday afternoon, 287 people remained missing, most of them high school students on a trip. Nine people were confirmed dead and 179 had been rescued. The official death toll was expected to rise significantly in the coming days, as most of the missing are believed to be trapped underwater inside the ship, named the Sewol.

President Park Geun-hye traveled to the site of the sinking, off the nation’s southern coast, touring the area by boat and later meeting with families of the passengers. But tempers flared as parents argued for a larger-scale diving operation to find the missing. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won was nearly attacked by grieving families as he arrived on the scene. Photos showed him being shielded from a...

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session Thursday in Moscow.

Putin: Russia may invade Ukraine to protect locals

MOSCOW --  Russia may invade southeast Ukraine to protect the local population, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

Speaking live at his annual call-in show in a Moscow television studio, Putin implied he reserves the right to move Russian troops into the neighboring country on behalf of pro-Russian residents.

“We know quite well that we must do our best to protect their rights and help them independently decide their fate and we will struggle for that,” Putin said. “I remind you that the Federation Council of Russia [the upper house of Parliament] empowered the president to use the armed forces in Ukraine.”

But Putin added that he hoped he would not have to resort to that.

Putin's threat suggests that Russia's armed intervention in Ukraine is a looming reality, Ukrainian political scientist Vadim Karasyov said.

“Today Putin in fact set up an ultimatum for Kiev to either allow a wide federalization of Ukraine with vast powers for eastern regions...

An Algerian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Algiers.

Algerians vote; ailing president likely to be reelected

CAIRO — With a notable lack of enthusiasm, Algerians went to the polls Thursday in a presidential vote that the 77-year-old incumbent, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was considered likely to win despite his obviously failing health.

The tumult of the Arab Spring uprising three years ago largely bypassed the  oil-rich North African nation, still exhausted by its sapping civil war in the 1990s, which Bouteflika helped bring to an end.

Discontent over high unemployment, a housing crunch and political stagnation is expressing itself mainly in the form of voter boycotts. Young voters dominate the electorate, but they were little seen at the polls as the balloting began amid tight security.

With Bouteflika’s near-incapacitation, a fourth-term victory for him would maintain a status quo under which proxies and proteges already manage the business of governance. But preelection demonstrations against his continued rule could be a sign of turmoil to come, particularly if Algeria’s...

A police car window shattered in a nighttime attack on a Ukraine national guard post in Mariupol.

Three militants killed in attack on Ukraine national guard base

MOSCOW -- Ukraine national guard forces killed three, wounded 13 and detained 63 armed militants who attacked their unit in the port of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine on the Azov Sea, an official said.

The armed gang that attacked the unit late Wednesday numbered about 300, Arsen Avakov, acting interior minister, wrote on his Facebook account Thursday.

“After the attackers threw fire grenades and Molotov cocktails into the territory of the unit and opened fire on soldiers on guard, the national guard troops opened warning fire and then … as the attack was repeated they began shooting to kill,” Avakov wrote. “The operation is continuing and a special police unit is pursuing one of the armed groups.”

Hromadske TV, a private online network, showed video of the initial attack in which armed, masked men standing in front of the unit demanded that soldiers surrender their weapons and arrest and hand over their commander.

“After the shocking setbacks in...

President Obama speaks at Community College of Allegheny County near Pittsburgh before the interview with CBS in which he discussed the Ukraine crisis.

Obama accuses Putin of destabilizing Ukraine

WASHINGTON -- President Obama accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of supporting "non-state militias" in southern and eastern Ukraine in an attempt to destabilize the country, and warned that the Russian leader was risking economic pain and international isolation.

"What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are  designed to destabilize Ukraine or violate their sovereignty that there are going to be consequences," Obama said in an interview Wednesday with CBS News.

He said he believed that sanctions imposed on Putin's allies and the threat of more to come had already taken a toll on the Russian economy and scared away investors.

"Mr. Putin's decisions are not just bad for Ukraine, over the long term they’re going to be bad for Russia," Obama said.

The White House said Wednesday that it was readying the next round of economic penalties against Russia, even as it prepared for a meeting Thursday in Geneva of senior-level diplomats...

A member of a self-defense group stands at the entrance to the Mexican city of Apatzingan in February. Prosecutors announced Wednesday that the city's mayor, Uriel Chavez Mendoza, was detained on suspicion of demanding extortion payments on behalf of the Knights Templar gang.

Beltran Leyva cartel figure and a Michoacan mayor arrested in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s drug and corruption crackdown intensified this week with the arrests of the reputed second in command of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel and the mayor of a Michoacan city once controlled by the Knights Templar criminal gang.

The detention Tuesday of Uriel Chavez Mendoza, the mayor of Apatzingan, could help government officials persuade the “self-defense” militias in the western state of Michoacan to comply with a newly minted agreement to disband by May 10. Tension between the armed citizen militias and the Knights Templar, a cult-like criminal organization, has made Michoacan one of the most sensitive security problems for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Meanwhile, the arrest of Beltran Leyva leader Arnoldo Villa Sanchez, announced Wednesday by federal authorities, highlights how closely the Peña Nieto administration has stuck with his predecessor’s “kingpin strategy” of targeting top narco bosses, despite...

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas  Abbas told five Israeli opposition legislators in Ramallah on Wednesday that he was willing to extend peace negotiations past their April 29 deadline "if the Israeli side commits to the principles that can allow an extension," his spokesman said. The Palestinians want Israel to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners as promised and to announce a total settlement freeze. They also want Israel to accept a Palestinian territory based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Middle East War.

Palestinian leader signals willingness to extend peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday that it was still possible to revive moribund peace negotiations.

Abbas told five Israeli opposition legislators from the Labor and Meretz parties that he was willing to extend the negotiations past their April 29 deadline "if the Israeli side commits to the principles that can allow an extension," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said. 

The Palestinians first want Israel to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners as promised, and to announce a total settlement freeze. They also want Israel to accept a Palestinian territory based on boundaries that existed prior to the 1967 Middle East War. 

"If there is an agreement on these principles, we are ready," Abu Rudeineh said at a news conference after the meeting in Ramallah. "But if Israel does not accept them, the Palestinian leadership will meet again to take the proper decision."

Palestinian leaders decided April 1 to...

Iran is complying with the terms of an interim nuclear deal with six foreign powers by diluting or converting its stockpile of enriched uranium, IAEA officials confirmed Wednesday. Above, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton attend talks in Vienna last week aimed at a permanent nuclear accord.

IAEA chief: Iran complying with nuclear scale-down commitments

Iran is fulfilling its commitments under a November agreement with six foreign powers to convert or dilute its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, International Atomic Energy Agency officials reported Wednesday.

"I can tell you, these measures are being implemented as planned," IAEA head Yukiya Amano told journalists during a visit to Oslo.

In Vienna, diplomats assigned to the United Nations nuclear agency headquarters told the Associated Press that they had seen an IAEA report due out this week confirming that Iran has significantly reduced its ability to make a nuclear weapon by diluting half of its medium-enriched uranium.

The report to IAEA member states also confirms that Iran is on track to convert the other half of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity into oxide for reactor fuel, the Associated Press reported, quoting the unidentified diplomats.

IAEA monitors play a key role in validating Iranian compliance with the Nov. 24 agreement penned in Geneva, which took...

Ukrainian military men sit on armored personnel carriers as they are blocked by pro-Russia supporters in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on Wednesday.

Ukraine military convoy seized by pro-Russia separatists

MOSCOW – Ukraine’s effort to retake government facilities from pro-Russian separatists faltered on Wednesday as gunmen seized a column of six armored vehicles from Ukrainian soldiers and narrowly failed to grab three more.

Ukrainian media reported that 30 armed men captured another building, municipal headquarters, in Donetsk, the main city of eastern Ukraine. Unconfirmed Russian news reports said about 300 Ukrainian soldiers deployed in the area had laid down their arms.

A defense expert said that the government bid to push back the separatists was “already a disaster, bordering on a complete fiasco.”

PHOTOS: Crisis in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed that the armored vehicles has been lost to the armed separatists in the town of Kramatorsk.

It said the six vehicles were on an operation in the town when they were blocked by local residents, and that gunmen were in the crowd. It said it was trying to clarify what had happened to the crews of the...

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses journalists in Brussels.

NATO steps up operations in response to Russian buildup near Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The United States and its NATO allies agreed Wednesday to step up air patrols over the Baltic nations and to deploy additional warships in response to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will also send military personnel to conduct training and exercises in Eastern Europe after allies called for a more visible show of strength from the 28-nation alliance, officials said.

“We have seen a Russian force that ... imposed its will on a sovereign nation and now has annexed a portion of that sovereign nation,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top commander, told reporters after an alliance meeting in Brussels. “We need to now take measures to assure our allies of our complete commitment” to their defense.

NATO officials gave no indication, however, that they were preparing to deploy ground forces other than for training purposes, or to open new bases in Eastern Europe, a step that...

Forensic geologist Roger Dixon, center, leaves court in Pretoria, South Africa, after testifying in the trial of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Prosecutor attacks credibility of Oscar Pistorius expert witness

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- An expert witness called by the defense team of South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius testified about bullet wounds, blood spatter, bruises, ballistics, sound, light, fibers and a toilet door -- but acknowledged Wednesday that he wasn’t a pathologist or ballistics expert and had no training in analyzing blood spatters.

Forensic geologist Roger Dixon initially was called in by the defense team to look at gunpowder residue. But under cross-examination he said he ended up looking at a wide range of issues in which he had little or no expertise.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused him of irresponsibility for doing so.

“You gave evidence, you were strong about it,” said Nel, referring to pathology evidence Dixon offered. “Do you see how irresponsible it is to give evidence on areas you are not expert?”

Police ballistics expert Chris Mangena, pathologist Gert Saayman and another pathologist called by the defense, Jan Botha, all found...

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, seen here at a Moscow  conference earlier this month, was among the Kremlin officials issuing dire accounts this week of the blows dealt the Russian economy by the turmoil in neighboring Ukraine.

Russian economy hit by Ukraine fallout; 0% growth in 2014 possible

Russia's economy has been hit hard by the Ukraine crisis, prompting finance officials to cut growth forecasts for this year to near zero and draining the country's hard currency reserves as investors flee an uncertain market, Kremlin officials disclosed Wednesday.

In an address to the lower house of parliament, Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said $63 billion had been converted from rubles to hard currencies and taken out of the country in the first quarter of this year.

If that pace of capital flight continues, Russia could easily surpass the $120 billion lost at the height of the global economic crisis six years ago.

"The acute international situation of the past two months" was to blame, Ulyukayev said, referring to the unrest in neighboring Ukraine following the Feb. 21 ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally. Russian troops then seized the strategic Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, raising the threat of international sanctions on Russia's vital energy...


'I love you,' student texts mom from sinking South Korea ferry

SEOUL -- As a ferry carrying 462 people slowly sank off South Korea’s southern coast Wednesday, a high school student sent a heartbreaking cellphone text message.

“Mom,” it said, “This might be my last chance to tell you I love you.”

The mother messaged back with her love -- but received no response.

In the emotional aftermath of the disaster, a screen grab of the exchange went viral. By late Wednesday, authorities had confirmed four passengers killed, 55 injured and more than 280 missing --  most of them high school students on what was meant to be a fun trip to a tourist island.

PHOTOS: South Korea ferry sinks

Many now fear for the lives of those students and others aboard the ferry. Television footage showed the ferry lying on its side in fairly calm seas, with helicopters overhead. With only part of the hull exposed, rescue workers used small, inflatable rafts to pluck passengers from the water.

Dozens of private ships joined in the effort. Authorities...

Supporters of leftist Egyptian presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi hold posters of him on April 5 outside a Cairo office where citizens can authorize signatures for the nomination process.

Liberal party endorses military man's rival for Egypt presidency

CAIRO – A liberal Egyptian political party said Wednesday it is endorsing leftist presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi in his race against the overwhelming favorite, former army chief Abdel Fattah Sisi.

The endorsement shows the Constitution Party is a “pillar for those aiming for a purely civil state,” Hala Shukrallah, the party’s chief, told a news conference.

Established by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei in 2012, the party was one of the political groups that blessed the ouster last summer of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi at the hands of the army, which was led by Sisi.

Nonetheless, almost 60% of the party's general board members voted in favor of backing Sabahi, while just 10% voted for endorsing Sisi's candidacy.

Another 28.6% wanted to boycott the poll altogether.

The party has been regarded as a mainstay for the leaders of the 2011 revolution against former strongman Hosni Mubarak. But the current extent of the party's influence on voters...

Afghan Deputy Minister of Public Works Ahmad Shah Wahid seen in his office in Kabul.

Afghanistan official shot, another kidnapped in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Two security incidents within 24 hours involving Afghan government officials have taken some of the glimmer off of this month’s generally successful presidential election and renewed concerns about safety in Kabul.

Hours after unknown gunmen kidnapped a deputy minister in President Hamid Karzai’s government, a police officer engaged in an argument with a female member of parliament opened fire and wounded the lawmaker in the leg, officials said Wednesday.

The lawmaker, Maryam Koofi, was in stable condition at a local hospital, according to a statement from the Afghan Interior Ministry. The police officer was detained and is under investigation, officials said.

The shooting took place around 10 p.m. local time Tuesday near Koofi’s home in Arya City, a housing complex normally regarded as one of Kabul’s safest. Hashmat Stanikzai, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said the officer fired one or two bullets. The cause of the argument wasn’...


Nearly 300 missing after South Korea ferry sinks

SEOUL -- The dramatic capsizing of a ferry stunned South Korea on Wednesday as rescuers raced to save 459 people aboard the vessel off the country’s southern coast. By mid-afternoon, however, about 293 people remained unaccounted for and two were confirmed dead, authorities said.

[Updated, 4 a.m. PST April 16: Four people have been confirmed dead, South Korean Coast Guard officials said late Wednesday.]

Television images of the sinking showed the vessel on its side in fairly calm seas, with helicopters overhead. With only part of the hull exposed, emergency personnel used small, inflatable rafts to rescue groups of passengers. Dozens of private vessels went to the scene to assist with the effort.

The vessel had set off from Incheon, on South Korea’s northwest coast, bound for Jeju Island, a popular vacation spot off the southern coast. Among the passengers were 325 students from a high school in Ansan, a suburb south of Seoul, who were headed to Jeju on a school trip with...

Prisoners wait to be processed for release from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004.

Iraq closes notorious Abu Ghraib prison because of security concerns

Iraq’s Ministry of Justice announced Tuesday that it would close the facility formerly known as Abu Ghraib prison, the site of an infamous torture scandal under the U.S. occupation.

“The ministry made that decision as part of precautionary measures related to the security of the prisons,” said Justice Minister Hassan Shammari. He did not clarify whether the shutdown is permanent.

Shammari explained that the location of the facility, on the edge of insurgent-dominated areas of Anbar province, west of central Baghdad, has become a “hot spot.”

Islamic militants have been targeting officials from the Shiite-led government and seizing control of parts of Anbar province, which is controlled by Sunni rebels. Iraq’s electoral commission said last week that there will be no voting in the areas of Anbar where security operations are underway.

Now called the Baghdad Central Prison, the jail facility has been emptied of its 2,400 inmates, some of whom were convicted...

A member of a self-defense group sits behind a barricade at the entrance of Apatzingan in Mexico's Michoacan state in February.

Vigilantes to disarm in Mexico's Michoacan state

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government has set a date for the so-called self-defense militias in the troubled western state of Michoacan to dissolve and account for their weapons, a move that does not necessarily signal the end of the vigilante movement.

Alfredo Castillo, the administration’s point-man for Michoacan state, said in a series of interviews Tuesday that the militias had agreed to disband by May 10.

Those who want to continue patrolling the towns of Michoacan will have to become part of a new statewide rural police force, Castillo said. All current militia members, however, will be allowed to keep their weapons, regardless of whether they join the police force, as long as they register them with the army and keep them at home, he said.

“Beginning May 11, any [armed] person not registered, not uniformed, will be arrested,” Castillo said.

He said the deadline date would allow authorities to vet and train those who want to join the rural force and to...

Residents of Chibok, Nigeria, say the militant group Boko Haram abducted dozens of schoolgirls from their boarding school in the middle of the night. Above, a screen capture of a video posted on YouTube in April 2012 that purports to show members of Boko Haram.

Nigerian militants abduct dozens of schoolgirls

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Dozens of Nigerian schoolgirls were loaded into vehicles by armed militants and driven off in the middle of the night, according to Nigerian officials.

The gunmen assaulted a boarding school in the town of Chibok, in the country's northeastern Borno state, on Monday night and ordered the students into three trucks and a bus, according to officials who spoke to Nigerian media. They also looted the school's food store and the town, killed some residents and burned dozens of houses, according to the reports.

Some media accounts suggested the attack lasted six hours, as the militants carefully selected which girls to abduct.

Local residents blamed Boko Haram, an Al Qaeda-linked militia fighting to impose Islamic law across Nigeria. The group opposes secular education and has often attacked schools and dormitories, at times cutting the throats of students, shooting them or locking them into dormitories and burning them alive.

Boko Haram means “...

Ukrainian army troops set up a position at a Russian-occupied airport near the eastern city of Kramatorsk. The Ukrainian government later said it had "liberated" the airport, the first objective of its announced "anti-terrorist operation" to recover facilities seized by Russian gunmen in at least 10 towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.

Russia condemns Ukrainian troops' move to oust armed separatists

MOSCOW -- Ukraine's interim government on Tuesday made good on threats to move against pro-Russia separatists occupying eastern cities, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand U.N. condemnation of the use of force in the neighboring country.

In a call to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Putin "emphasized that the Russian side expects the United Nations and the international community to clearly condemn the Kiev authorities' anti-constitutional military operation in Ukraine's southeast," the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Russia-backed militants who have seized government and security facilities in at least 10 towns and cities in eastern Ukraine were under fire in the city of Slavyansk, Russian news media reported, casting the operation to recover Ukrainian government control as a violent strike against civilians.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the Kremlin might boycott a diplomatic gathering in Geneva on Thursday that is intended to work toward a...


Prosecutor wraps up grueling cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Hours before South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, she wrote him a  Valentine’s Day card with the words, “I think today is a good day to tell you that I love you,” a court heard Tuesday.

The envelope was addressed to “Ozzie” with hearts and a squiggle on it, and the card’s message was accompanied by a smiley face, hearts and kisses.

A photograph of the card was released by the athlete’s legal team Tuesday, after Pistorius finished nearly seven days in the witness box, including five days of grueling cross-examination.

Pistorius told the Pretoria high court that the card was from “the day the accident happened.” He opened it months later.

The introduction of the card appeared to be an effort to undermine the prosecution’s contention that the couple had argued on the night of the killing and that Steenkamp sometimes feared the athlete.


Libyan security officers stand in front of the Jordanian Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, after Ambassador Fawaz Itan was kidnapped by masked gunmen.

Jordan's ambassador to Libya kidnapped in Tripoli

Jordan's ambassador to Libya was abducted by armed assailants Tuesday while heading to his Tripoli office, the latest official taken hostage in the unstable North African country.

Masked kidnappers opened fire on the vehicle in which Ambassador Fawaz Itan was a passenger, wounding the driver, said Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour in a briefing to members of the lower house of parliament.

The driver was hospitalized, according to Jordan's official Petra news agency.

The identity of the abductors and their motive have yet to be officially confirmed. Reuters news agency quoted Essam Baitelmel, a member of the team investigating the abduction, as saying the kidnappers wanted Islamist Libyan militant Mohamed Dersi to be released from a Jordanian prison in return for the envoy’s freedom.

Dersi has been serving a life sentence since 2007 for plotting to bomb the main airport in Jordan.

In January, gunmen briefly held five Egyptian diplomats after the arrest of Libyan militia...


Dutch teen draws arrest, mockery for tweeting threat to American Airlines

A 14-year-old Dutch girl, whose Twitter message to American Airlines was interpreted as a terrorist threat, has been freed after a brief arrest and confronted with a worldwide barrage of tweets debating whether she was a victim of security excess or an "idiot" for performing the stunt.

The girl, identified only as Sarah, was briefly taken into custody Monday, a day after she sent a tweet to @AmericanAir with the message: “hello my name is Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye."

The airline responded swiftly: "Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI."

Sarah tweeted apologies for what she said was intended as a joke, but Rotterdam police responding to the incident took her into custody. She was released Tuesday after an initial court hearing, Rotterdam police confirmed in a tweet.

The girl's Twitter account,...


Ukraine says it reclaimed airport seized by pro-Russia separatists

MOSCOW -- Ukrainian forces launched combat operations against pro-Russian separatists Tuesday and recaptured a military airport in the eastern part of the country, the acting president said. 

Explosions and gunfire were heard from around the airport, located between the owns of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. Both towns were seized last week by armed separatists, said the UNIAN news agency. 

A Ukrainian SU-24 jet flew over the airport firing at separatist positions, and troops using armored vehicles followed with a ground assault, the report said.

Acting Ukrainian President Olexandr Turchinov told the Supreme Rada, or parliament, that he had received information that the airport had been recaptured.

"They have called from the Donetsk region to say that Ukrainian commandos have liberated the airport from the terrorists in the town of Kramatorsk," he said.

Rossiya-24, a Russian television news network, said between four and 11 people were killed. The network did not say how many died on each...



Times Global Bureaus »

Click on bureau location to meet the correspondents