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In brief: U.N. in South Sudan denies report of mass grave

NAIROBI, Kenya – The United Nations mission in South Sudan has denied a report of a mass grave that was issued by the office of a U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Berlin office of Navi Pillay had said on Tuesday that a grave of 75 bodies was found in Bentiu, Unity State. Later the office revised that figure to 34 bodies and 75 people feared missing.

UNMISS said the erroneous report was an inflation of a “skirmish” in which 15 people were killed, but added it is still deeply concerned about extrajudicial killings and is investigating those reports.

Iran bill reacts to sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran – Some 100 Iranian lawmakers introduced a bill in parliament that would force the government to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent if new sanctions are imposed on the Islamic republic, state television reported Wednesday.

The broadcaster said the bill would be put on parliament’s agenda for a debate, but didn’t say when it would be discussed. The bill has to be approved by the 290-seat house and then be ratified by a constitutional watchdog in order to become law.

The bill is likely a response to legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate last week that would authorize new economic sanctions on Iran if it breaches the interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva last month or fails to strike a final agreement.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent and neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium in return for the easing of some sanctions and a pledge not to impose new ones.

Turkish ministers resign

ANKARA, Turkey – Three Cabinet ministers resigned in Turkey on Wednesday, days after their sons were taken into custody in a sweeping corruption and bribery scandal that has targeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s allies and rattled the government.

The resignations include Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler and Erdogan Bayraktar, the environment and urban planning minister Erdogan Bayraktar – who also called on Erdogan to step down while announcing his resignation and exposing a deep rift with the Turkish leader. All three denied wrongdoing.

Caglayan’s and Guler’s sons, along with the chief executive officer of the state-run bank Halkbank, are among 24 people arrested on bribery charges. Bayraktar’s son, Abdullah Oguz, was detained as part of the probe but later released from custody.

Media reports said police seized $4.5 million in cash that was stashed in shoe boxes at the home of the bank’s CEO, while more than 1 million dollars in cash was reportedly discovered in the home of Guler’s son.

Abe visits war shrine

TOKYO – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid his respects today at a shrine honoring Japan’s war dead in a move that drew a quick rebuke from China and South Korea.

Visits to the shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead including convicted war criminals, have long been a point of friction with China and South Korea, because of Japan’s brutal acts during World War II.

It was the first visit by a sitting prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi went to mark the end of World War II in 2006.

“I prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace,” Abe told waiting reporters immediately afterward.

Christmas bombings kill 37

BAGHDAD – Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said Wednesday.

In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.

Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.

Greenpeace crew to be freed

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Russian investigators have dropped charges against all but one of the 30 crew of a Greenpeace ship, who were accused of hooliganism following a protest outside a Russian oil rig in the Arctic, the group said Wednesday.

Cristian d’Alessandro of Italy failed to get his criminal case closed due to the lack of an interpreter and will have to visit the St. Petersburg branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee again today, said Violetta Ryabko, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.

Ryabko said foreign members of the crew had already applied to the Russian authorities for exit visas to leave and expect to get them in days.


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Trump backtracks on Syria after talks with French leader

One month ago President Donald Trump surprised many, including some in his own administration, by announcing, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.” He insisted that the time had come for the U.S. military to shift its focus away from Syria.