African leaders seek talks to curtail crisis

Fighting persisted in parts of South Sudan’s oil-producing region as African leaders tried Thursday to facilitate peace talks between the country’s president and political rivals he accuses of attempting a coup to seize control of the world’s newest nation.

Kenyan President Uhuru Ken­yatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had “a constructive dialogue” with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, according to Kiir’s foreign minister. But the fugitive former vice president who now leads renegade troops was not represented, and no political breakthrough emerged.

The next round of meetings will be held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where regional leaders under a bloc known as IGAD are to meet Friday, South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said.

Kiir agreed “in principle” to stop hostilities and to negotiate with former vice president Riek Machar, Benjamin said. Machar’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Government troops are trying to retake control of Bentiu, the capital of Unity state, from forces loyal to Machar. Fighting was also reported in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state. Upper Nile and Unity make up the country’s key oil-producing region.

— Associated Press

U.S. sends missiles to help in al-Qaeda fight

The United States has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq’s air force, which is using them in a campaign against the country’s branch of al-Qaeda, officials in Washington and Baghdad said.

Two intelligence officers and a military officer said that 75 of the missiles arrived Dec. 19 and that more will be shipped in the future.

They said the missiles are being used by four Iraqi King Air propeller planes during a large-scale military operation in the western desert near the borders with Syria. An intelligence official said the missiles were proven “successful” and were used to destroy four militant camps.

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, confirmed the missile shipment and said the United States was planning on sending ScanEagle drones.

“The United States is committed to supporting Iraq in its fight against terrorism through the Strategic Framework Agreement,” she said, referring to a 2008 bilateral pact. “The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles
and an upcoming delivery of ScanEagles are standard foreign military sales cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat.”

— Associated Press

Russian scientists say radiation did not kill Arafat: A Russian probe into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has found no trace of radioactive poisoning, a determination that comes after a French probe found traces of the radioactive isotope polonium and a Swiss investigation said the time frame of his illness and death was consistent with that of polonium poisoning. Vladimir Uiba, head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said that Arafat died of natural causes and that the agency had no plans to do further tests. Palestinians have long suspected Israel of poisoning Arafat, which Israel denies.

Thai government rejects calls for election delay: Thailand’s election commission called for upcoming elections to be delayed as street battles between security forces and protesters seeking to disrupt the ballot left a police officer dead and nearly 100 people injured, dealing fresh blows to the beleaguered government. The government quickly rejected the call. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra wants the Feb. 2 vote to take place as scheduled, in the apparent belief that she will win handily and renew her mandate.

Air pollution worsens in Shanghai: Shanghai warned children and the elderly to stay indoors as smog enveloped China’s commercial hub, sending levels of the worst pollutants surging to more than 15 times World Health Organization guidelines. The level of particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter — deemed the most dangerous — reached 395.7 micrograms per cubic meter at 3 p.m., city officials said. The WHO recommends exposure of no more than 25 over a 24-hour period.

Piranhas injure dozens of bathers in Argentina: A surprise attack by a school of carnivorous fish identified as “a type of piranha” injured 70 people bathing in a river in the Argentine city of Rosario, including seven children who lost parts of their fingers or toes, officials said. The city closed the beaches, but it was so hot that paramedics said people were going back into the water within half an hour.

— From news services