Government, Taliban open peace talks
Pakistan officials and Taliban representatives made their first formal contact Thursday, each side handing the other a wish list as they began talks to end a debilitating conflict that has ravaged the country for years. The talks took place a week after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he wanted to give peace negotiations another chance despite mounting pressure in the country to use force against Taliban insurgents.
Army denies leader to seek presidency
Egypt's army on Thursday denied that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had told a Kuwaiti newspaper he was running for president, saying a declaration of his candidacy would be made directly and unequivocally to "the great Egyptian people." But the story appeared to fit with a drawn-out unveiling of el-Sissi's intentions, characterized by ever stronger hints. The field marshal, who led the coup that deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi more than seven months ago, would have to relinquish his post as defense minister before formally stating he would run, and a Cabinet reshuffle is thought to be imminent.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest draft
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked highways across Israel Thursday to protest government plans to draft them into the army, clashing with club-wielding police who aimed water cannons and fired stun grenades at them. The violent protests came days after a Supreme Court ruling ordered funding halted to ultra-Orthodox seminaries whose students dodge the draft and laid bare a deep rift in Israeli society. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have for years been exempt from military service, which is compulsory for other Jewish Israelis.
EU wants stronger Cuba relationship
The European Union is to seek stronger relations with Cuba, a senior EU official said Thursday, with the bloc's foreign ministers due to approve the diplomatic shift at a meeting next week. The move is likely to open a new era in EU relations with Cuba, which has embarked on a gradual reform process since President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008. Under the new policy, the EU hopes to support Cuba's political reforms and encourage greater respect for human rights.
Group: Iraq holding women illegally
Iraq authorities are illegally detaining thousands of women, including many subjected to torture and the threat of sexual abuse despite promises of reform, Human Rights Watch said Thursday. The findings raise new concerns about Iraq's ability to handle those detained in massive security sweeps targeting militants.
Rules target safety of infant formula
After nearly two decades of study, the Food and Drug Administration announced rules Thursday designed to make sure infant formula is safe and nutritious. Most formula makers already abide by the practices, but the FDA now has rules on the books that ensure formula manufacturers test their products for salmonella and other pathogens before distribution. The rules also require companies to prove they are including specific nutrients in their formulas.