Giffords urges Congress to show courage on gun control


Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, badly wounded two years ago in a mass shooting that left six people dead, made a surprise appearance at a Senate hearing to ask her erstwhile colleagues for action on gun control.

"Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Giffords, whose recovery from a gunshot to the head was described by doctors as miraculous, continues to have difficulty talking.

"You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you," the former representative from Arizona said with husband Mark Kelly at her side.




17 Bodies found in well in Mexico


Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon have concluded the work of recovering and identifying a total of 17 bodies found in a well, officials said.

All of the victims were associated with the band Kombo Kolombia.

The bodies, the last of which were recovered Tuesday afternoon, were found inside the well at an abandoned ranch in the town of Mina thanks to information from a band member who had escaped from the gunmen that abducted the group last week.

The bodies of the victims - 13 musicians, one of them a Colombian citizen; three assistants; and one sound engineer - have already been handed over to their relatives, the state Attorney General's Office said.

The group performed at a private function at the La Carreta bar - in Hidalgo, a town next to Mina - on Thursday night, just hours before a group of roughly 10 gunmen showed up in four SUVs and kidnapped 18 musicians and crew.




Egypt unrest claims 2 more lives


Two people died during disturbances in and around Cairo's Tahrir Square, a spokesman for the Egyptian Health Ministry said.

One of the fatalities was taken to Ahmad Maher Hospital, while the other went directly to the morgue, Ahmad Omar said.

More than 50 people have died and hundreds have been injured since protests erupted last Friday on the second anniversary of the revolution that led to the toppling of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The demonstrations are directed at President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, accused by more secular Egyptians of seeking to monopolize power.




Death toll reaches 235 in Brazil fire


The death toll from last weekend's fire at a discotheque in this southern Brazilian city rose to 235 and 143 other people remain hospitalized, authorities said.

Three days after the deadliest blaze in Brazil in the past 50 years the number of fatalities keeps rising because many of the people who initially did not need medical attention are starting to suffer the effects of respiratory poisoning

On Tuesday alone, 22 people were admitted to hospitals for treatment.

They are people who emerged apparently unhurt from the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria but who later began to experience symptoms like shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and fatigue, all of which are typical of chemical pneumonia and which can arise up to five days after inhaling toxic substances.




Civil bond set at nearly $11 mn for Spanish king's son-in-law


The judge investigating a corruption case implicating Iñaki Urdangarin has ordered the Spanish king's son-in-law and his co-defendant, former business partner Diego Torres, each to post an 8.1-million-euro (nearly $11-million) civil bond.

The amount covers possible legal liabilities in the case of alleged diversion of public funds to the now-defunct Noos Institute, a purportedly non-profit entity once headed by Urdangarin, who is married to King Juan Carlos's youngest daughter, Princess Cristina.




Colombian rebels will continue to take prisoners in combat


The team representing the FARC guerrilla group in peace talks with the Colombian government said that insurgents have the right to hold police and soldiers who fall into their hands in combat.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is currently holding two police officers grabbed by rebel fighters last Friday in the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca.

"We reserve the right to capture as prisoners those members of the public force who have surrendered in combat. They are called prisoners of war and this phenomenon occurs in any conflict in the world," FARC negotiators said in a statement posted online.




Russia on track to become Venezuela's No. 1 oil partner


Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA has signed a series of offshore gas development and drill-rig import agreements here with Russian state-controlled Rosneft, bolstering an alliance with a country that Caracas expects will be its top oil partner by 2021.

The CEOs of PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, and Rosneft, Igor Sechin, signed the accords, including a memorandum of understanding for the joint development of the Rio Caribe and Mejillones offshore gas fields, part of the Mariscal Sucre liquefied natural gas project off Venezuela's northeast coast.

Ramirez, who is also Venezuela's energy minister, said joint ventures between PDVSA and Russian oil and gas companies Rosneft, Gazprom, Surgutneftegaz and Lukoil currently account for total output of 230,000 barrels of crude per day.




South Korea joins space club with satellite launch


South Korea successfully launched a satellite-bearing rocket into orbit, finally joining the global space club after two failed attempts in 2009 and 2010.

The Naro rocket, partially developed with local technology and carrying the STSAT-2C scientific satellite, was launched at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday at the Naro Space Center, located some 480 kilometers (300 miles) south of Seoul.

South Korean Science and Technology Minister Lee Ju-ho said the launch of the 140-ton rocket, the Asian nation's third attempt in four years to send a satellite into orbit, was a success.

The launch however, was partially overshadowed by the fact that North Korea - its impoverished communist neighbor - had already achieved that same feat a few weeks earlier.




At least 12 dead in China coal mine accident


At least 12 people died as a result of a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Three other workers were rescued and are listed in good condition, while some rescue team members also were reportedly affected by the toxic gas.

Seven miners were taken out of the mine alive and rushed to a hospital but they did not respond to medical treatment. It is not known if other miners remain trapped.