Protests jeopardize aid, Hagel says

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pakistani leaders Monday that if they don’t resolve protests that have stalled some military shipments across the border with Afghanistan, it could be difficult to maintain political support in Washington for an aid program under which billions of dollars have been sent to Islamabad, defense officials said.

In response, the officials said, Hagel received assurances from the Pakistanis that they would take “immediate action” to resolve the problem. Details on how that might be done were not provided.

Last week, anti-American protests along a primary border-crossing route in Pakistan prompted the United States to stop shipments from Torkham Gate through the port city of Karachi, because of worries about the safety of the truckers. The protests center on the CIA’s drone program, which has targeted and killed many terrorists but has also caused civilian casualties.

— Associated Press

Putin increases control over news

President Vladimir Putin tightened his control over Russia’s media on Monday by dissolving the main state news agency and replacing it with an organization tasked with promoting Moscow’s image abroad.

The move to close RIA Novosti and create a news agency to be known as Rossiya Segodnya is the second in two weeks strengthening Putin’s hold on the media as he tries to reassert his authority after protests against his rule.

Most Russian media outlets are loyal to Putin, and opponents get little airtime, but the shake-up underlined their importance to Putin keeping power and the Kremlin’s concern about his ­ratings and image.

The head of the new agency, to be built from the ashes of RIA ­Novosti, is a conservative news anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov, who had caused outrage by saying that the organs of homosexuals should not be used in transplants.

“The main focus of . . . Rossiya Segodnya [Russia Today] is to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation,” according to a decree signed by Putin.

— Reuters

Embattled premier calls early elections

Desperate to defuse Thailand’s deepening political crisis, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament’s lower house on Monday and called early elections. But protesters seeking to topple her vowed to carry on their fight, saying they cannot win at the ballot box because of corruption.

A decree from King Bhumibol Adulyadej scheduled the elections for Feb. 2 and named Yingluck as interim prime minister until then. The protesters demanded her resignation and rejected the election date, putting the strongly royalist movement at odds with the king’s decree.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an arrest warrant on insurrection charges, spoke to more than 150,000 followers at a stage outside Yingluck’s offices, challenging authorities to “Come get me!”

He said his movement was assuming some functions of government, citing a clause in the constitution that “the highest power is the sovereign power of the people.”

After Yingluck called the elections, the United States said it supports the democratic process in Thailand, a longtime ally.

The opposition Democrat Party, allied with the protest movement, has been defeated by pro-Thaksin parties in every election since 2001 and is unlikely to win the new elections.

— Associated Press

Students, police clash in Cairo: Students of an Islamic university in Cairo and supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president set security vehicles on fire Monday, sending police chasing them into their campus with armored vehicles and tear gas and arresting dozens, the Interior Ministry said. It was the second straight day of protests by Al-Azhar University students, who have been holding regular demonstrations since the start of the academic year in September against the military’s July ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The rallies have frequently deteriorated into clashes with police.

Mobs loot in Argentina during police strike: A young man was electrocuted while looting an appliance store in a rainstorm, becoming at least the fourth fatality in Argentina blamed on mob chaos inspired by striking police who are demanding higher pay. At least seven provinces on Monday were dealing with mobs of looters while officers confined themselves to police stations just ahead of the December holidays.

— From news services