Brazil's Petrobras makes new deep-water oil find


Brazilian state-controlled oil giant Petrobras announced a new oil discovery in ultra-deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The company said the crude reserves were found at a depth of 1,874 meters (6,145 feet) at a well in the Marlim Sul field, 126 kilometers (77 miles) off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.

That well - known as Mandarim - is located in the pre-salt region, a massive oil frontier so-named because the crude reservoirs it contains are located under an extensive layer of salt up to 2,000 meters (6,550 feet) thick.

Distributed across roughly 160,000 sq. kilometers (62,000 sq. miles), the pre-salt region is projected to hold tens of billions of barrels of light oil and could potentially transform the South American country into a major exporter of crude and derivatives.




Mexico dissolves Public Safety Secretariat


The federal Public Safety Secretariat, one of the pillars of the previous Mexican government's battle against organized crime, has been formally eliminated as part of a public administration overhaul promoted by new President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The overhaul, which Congress approved on Dec. 13, restores to the Government Secretariat the public safety functions that had been assigned to the Public Safety Secretariat since 2000.

With the change, the Government Secretariat will now oversee the 36,000-strong Federal Police force.

Mexico has a complex maze of federal, state and municipal police forces, while army soldiers and marines have also been deployed to violence-wracked areas as part of former President Felipe Calderon's war on drug cartels.




Accomplice in Guatemalan bishop's murder wins early release


A Catholic priest sentenced to 20 years in prison as an accomplice in the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi was paroled and spoke out to assert his innocence.

"It was hard to spend so much time in prison being innocent," the Rev. Mario Orantes told reporters outside a courtroom in Guatemala City, adding that he plans to resume his priestly duties.

Orantes, who served 12 years behind bars, was granted early release based on good behavior. Another man convicted for Gerardi's murder, retired army Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, was paroled last July.

Bishop Gerardi, 75, was found beaten to death in the garage of the rectory where he lived just two days after a commission he led released a report documenting 55,000 human rights violations during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, most of them committed by the army.




Pakistani girl wounded by Taliban leaves hospital in England


Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in October for campaigning for girls' education, has been discharged from the hospital in England.

Malala left Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the central English city of Birmingham but she will continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in the West Midlands region, the BBC reported.

Doctors at the Birmingham hospital had said Thursday that the 15-year-old girl would undergo reconstruction surgery at the end of the month or the beginning of February. Malala was shot in the head and chest on Oct. 9 in Pakistan's northwestern Swat District by Taliban gunmen while on her way home from school.




7 Tots die in fire at Chinese orphanage


At least seven children died when a private orphanage caught fire in the central Chinese province of Hainan, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

The blaze occurred at a house in the town of Lankao at 8:30 a.m., and firefighters were only able to douse the flames two hours later, according to local authorities.

Four children died at scene of the accident and another three died on the way to the hospital.

A spokesperson for local authorities said the exact number of youngsters in the orphanage when the fire started is not yet known. A woman had converted a house into a shelter for orphans and abandoned children.




Venezuelan gov't: Chavez battling "severe" lung infection


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who remains hospitalized in Cuba more than three weeks after his latest cancer surgery, is experiencing respiratory deficiency caused by a "severe" lung infection, government officials said.

"Following the delicate Dec. 11 surgery, comandante Chavez has faced complications stemming from a severe lung infection," Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a statement on Venezuelan television and radio Thursday night.

"This infection has led to respiratory deficiency that requires comandante Chavez to strictly comply with his medical treatment," he added.

The statement came a few hours after Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Chavez will return to Venezuela "sooner than later."