Violence blamed on political limbo
BAGHDAD | The top U.S. commander for Baghdad warned Wednesday that Iraq's prolonged political crisis has encouraged militants to step up attacks and left civilians so frustrated they could be holding back crucial tips on suspected insurgent cells.
The assessment by Army Brig. Gen. Rob Baker is the most direct link by U.S. military brass between Iraq's nearly seven-month impasse on forming a government and a recent spike in violence that has included rocket strikes blamed on Shiite militias and targeted killings by suspected Sunni hit squads against security officials and government workers.
Gen. Baker's comments also boost U.S. pressure on Iraqi political leaders to pull together after March elections, which were narrowly won by a Sunni-backed coalition but without enough parliament seats to push aside the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — who seeks to hold on to power.
China detainee case called top priority
TOKYO | China needs to resolve the case of four Japanese citizens it is holding as the first step toward repairing ties that have been strained over a territorial dispute, Japan's foreign minister said Wednesday.
Japanese trading company officials, meanwhile, said China appeared to have lifted a de facto ban on Japan-bound exports of rare earth metals, crucial for advanced manufacturing, but that shipments had not arrived in Japan because of tighter customs inspections at Chinese ports.
Mail workers accused of drug trafficking
SAN JUAN | Seven U.S. Postal Service workers in Puerto Rico have been indicted on charges that they trafficked thousands of parcels of heroin, cocaine and marijuana through the mail, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The mail carriers are accused of running a smuggling ring that shipped drugs in Puerto Rico, Texas, California and Arizona beginning in 2003.
As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is a favored transit point for drugs from South America because once they arrive here, they do not have to clear customs to reach the American market.
U.N. lifts arms embargo
UNITED NATIONS | The U.N. Security Council is lifting a 13-year-old arms embargo against the small West African nation of Sierra Leone after being assured that the nation is sufficiently stable after the civil war that ended in 2002.
The 15-member council said Wednesday that it was removing the last U.N. sanctions on the country because the government had fully re-established control over its territory and former fighters had been successfully disarmed and demobilized.
Nevertheless, the council agreed that Sierra Leone still needs international support and extended the mandate of the country's U.N. peace-building office by one year.
2 strong quakes hit eastern Indonesia
JAKARTA | Two powerful earthquakes hit waters off eastern Indonesia in rapid succession early Thursday, prompting officials to briefly trigger a short-lived tsunami warning.
The U.S. Geological Survey said a 7.2 magnitude quake off Papua province, centered seven miles beneath the ocean floor, struck less than a minute after a 6.6 temblor in the same location.
The town of Tual on nearby Maluku island was shaken, said Fauzi, chief of the Indonesian meteorological and geophysics agency, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Student sentenced in American's beating
BELGRADE | A Belgrade court says it will sentence a former Serb basketball player to about two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to beating a fellow American student into a coma in the case that has strained relations between the U.S. and Serbia.
Miladin Kovacevic was accused of beating fellow student Bryan Steinhauer of Brooklyn in May 2008 near Binghamton University during a barroom brawl. The assault left Mr. Steinhauer with skull fractures and a severe brain injury.
The court said Wednesday that it had accepted the plea bargain between the defense and the prosecution and will sentence Kovacevic to two years and three months. Since he already has spent about three months in U.S. and Serbian prisons, he will have to serve about two years for the assault.
Militants ambush governor's convoy
SAN'A | Yemeni security officials say suspected al Qaeda militants ambushed a convoy of cars carrying the governor of a southern province where the terror group's local offshoot has established a haven.
The governor of Shabwa province, Ali al-Ahmadi, was not injured, but one soldier guarding the convoy was killed and four others were wounded in an exchange of fire with the masked gunmen. Officials from the Defense Ministry also were traveling in the convoy.
Berlusconi wins confidence vote
ROME | Premier Silvio Berlusconi won a confidence vote Wednesday night in the Chamber of Deputies by a wide margin, staving off, at least for now, the specter of early elections.
Mr. Berlusconi had staked his coalition's survival on the outcome of the vote in the lower chamber of parliament. He garnered 342 votes in favor of his government compared with 275 votes against, with three abstentions.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports