World News

State Department Calls for Release of Iranian Leaders Under House Arrest

(BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images) A combo of two file pictures shows former Iranian parliament speaker and leader of the National Confidence reformist party, Mehdi Karroubi (L), addressing a press conference in Tehran on October 12, 2008 and former prime minister and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi speaking after voting in the Iranian capital during the controversial presidential election on June 12, 2009.(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department on Sunday called for the release of senior Iranian officials who have been under house arrest since 2009.Sunday marked the five-year anniversary of the imprisonment of 2009 Iranian presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi's wife and women's rights advocate Zahra Rahnavard. The three have been under house arrest, though they haven't been formally charged with any crimes, since."We join the international community in condemning their continued detention and the harassment of their family members," a statement from State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner reads. "The United States will continue to urge the Iranian government to respect its international obligations, including minimum fair trial guarantees and not subjecting its citizens to arbitrary arrest or detention."Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

British Indie Rock Band Dies in Car Crash in Sweden

iStock/Thinkstock(STOCKHOLM) -- All four members of a British indie rock band called Viola Beach and their manager died in a car crash near Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday.The BBC reports Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Thomas Lowe, and Jack Dakin, and manager Craig Tarry were killed when their car fell more than 82 feet from a bridge into a canal.The band last performed in a Swedish music festival on Friday, and they were supposed to play a show in Guildford on Saturday.Fans, supporters, and other bands took to Twitter to offer their condolences for the deceased band and their loved ones: We are shocked and saddened to learn of the death of lifelong #mcfc supporter Craig Tarry, manager of the band Viola Beach.— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) February 14, 2016  Very sad to hear the awful news about Warrington's Viola Beach and their manager. Lives and music tragically cut short in their prime.— James Walsh (@jamesstarsailor) February 14, 2016  Tragic news about Viola Beach. Young band, first tour outside the UK. My thoughts are with their families and friends.— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) February 14, 2016 Swedish police are investigating the incident.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

UN: Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Hit Record High

MatthewBrosseau/iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit an all-time high, according to a United Nations report released Sunday.The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released its annual report, detailing civilian casualties from the previous year. The report showed 11,002 casualties -- 3,545 deaths and 7,457 injuries. Those figures represent a four percent increase in total casualties from 2014. UNAMA has been keeping track of casualty figures since 2009."The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable," said Nicholas Haysom, Secretary-General of the United Nations' Special Representative for Afghanistan said. "We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016."Anti-government elements caused 62 percent of the civilians casualties, the U.N. said, while pro-government forces were responsible for 17 percent of the casualties. Additional casualties were cause by fighting between parties in the conflict, but could not be attributed to one side or the other.UNAMA documented a 37 percent increase in casualties to women and 14 percent in children.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Putin and Obama Discuss Syria and Ukraine

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- The Kremlin says Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama have held a telephone conversation about the Syrian war and the unresolved conflict in Ukraine.A Sunday statement said the call took place at Washington's initiative, but didn't specify when it occurred.On Syria, the statement said "Both sides gave a positive assessment of the results of the meeting of the International Syrian Support Group in Munich on February 11-12, confirmed the principles and provisions of the United Nations Security Council resolution 2254 both in terms of humanitarian aspects and to develop modalities for the ceasefire, and in promoting the launch of a real political process."Putin stressed the importance of creating a "common front against terrorism" and establishing a working relationship between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry, it said.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Earthquake Hits Christchurch, New Zealand

USGS(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) -- A 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday local time.GeoNet Science, New Zealand's official monitoring service, cautioned of aftershocks, according to Australia's ABC.The earthquake was too small to cause a tsunami, according to GeoNet spokeswoman Caroline Little, but objects were still sensitive enough to fall from walls and shelves.Jenny Krez, a coffee shop manager, said items broke in her shop, according to the New Zealand Herald. Shopping malls were evacuated.This quake is just a week short of the fifth anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude quake that hit the same area and killed 185 people.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Cleared to Sail, Coast Guard Says

ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was rocked by terrifying, hurricane-force winds off the coast of the Carolinas six days ago was cleared to sail by the Coast Guard Saturday.Anthem of the Seas is setting sail on its originally scheduled cruise itinerary, traveling from New Jersey to Florida and the Bahamas.Anthem of the Seas originally left Cape Liberty, New Jersey, last Saturday for a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas. But Sunday, when the ship encountered a storm off the coast of the Carolinas, passengers and crew members endured wind gusts topping 76 miles per hour and waves nearly 40 feet high.The weather toppled chairs, broke ceilings and shattered glasses. Passenger Jessica Sheridan, who was on the ship with her husband and 20-month-old son, told ABC News that she was afraid for her life as the boat tipped from side to side.The 10-month-old ship has 2,090 staterooms and can hold over 4,000 guests.No one was seriously injured, but the rough seas prompted the captain to turn the ship around and head back to New Jersey, where it's been since Wednesday.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pope Francis's Busy Day in Mexico

Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty Images(HAVANA) -- Pope Francis has a very busy day ahead of him in Mexico City.He is planning to speak with the country’s elite, political, and church leaders and try to urge them to deal with the problems that plague Mexico, including corruption, drug violence, poverty, and inequality.The pope will then join the people for a mass at Mexico’s most sacred shrine, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.Pope Francis told reporters on his way to Mexico from Rome that the ultimate goal for him on this trip is to pray at that shrine, which is beloved by so many around the world.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Al-Shabab Claims Responsibility for Somalia Plane Explosion

Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(MOGADISHU, Somalia) -- The Islamist militant group in Somalia, al-Shabab, is taking the blame for the explosion on a plane that left a hole in the side of the plane’s body earlier this month.Al-Shabab said in an emailed statement that the attack was revenge for Western intelligence groups carrying out operations in Somalia.According to the BBC, the explosion occurred 15 minutes into flight, so the cabin was not yet pressurized.The BBC reports that most of the passengers were supposed to be on a Turkish Airlines flight, but that flight was cancelled because of inclement weather.The Somali government said more than 20 people have been arrested in connection to the attack.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Group Hopes to Reunite Lost Cat With Refugee Family

Courtesy Edward St. George/Reunite Dias(LESVOS, Greece) -- He may be named for the Greek god Zeus, but Dias the cat and his team of volunteers are faced with a Herculean task: trying to reunite him with his family.Dias arrived by boat on the shores of Lesvos, Greece, in November 2015 with his owners, who were fleeing ISIS-controlled Mosul, Iraq. When they landed, Dias broke free and ran off.“The family told the volunteers at the time what had happened and many helped the family search for a fluffy white cat with yellow eyes for hours,” Michelle Nhin, a volunteer with the “Reunite Dias” group, told ABC News.However, the family was soon forced to move on without their cat. Two of the volunteers, Ashley Anderson and Amy Shrodes, knew the family felt “horrible” that they had to leave.“It's not cheap for a spot on the dinghy so the family must have loved Dias very much to take him with them," Nhin said.When Dias showed up in a nearby village three days later, the volunteers decided to do something to help. They launched a social media campaign to share Dias’ story, put out Arabic-translated flyers and created a GoFundMe page to help with veterinary costs.“Amid all the chaos, suffering and sadness,” the group is “hopeful in reuniting [Dias] with his family," Nhin said.Although they have not yet located his family, they have found Dias a foster home in Berlin. The group believes they have the best chance of reuniting Dias with his owners in Germany due to the large number of refugees settling there. They plan to continue their search until January 2017, at which point Dias’ foster family will adopt him.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Orangutan Mesmerized By Breastfeeding Mom at Melbourne Zoo

Courtesy Elizabeth Hunt Burrett(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- An Australian mother had an unlikely audience while breastfeeding her infant son at the Melbourne Zoo.An orangutan closely watched from inside one of the zoo’s exhibits as Elizabeth Hunt Burrett breastfed her now-14-week-old son, Eli."I was there for about 20 minutes and the orangutan watched the whole feed," Burrett told ABC News in an email.Burrett, of Melbourne, was visiting the zoo to celebrate her older daughter's third birthday on Feb. 7, when she went off to the side to nurse Eli.Soon enough, Burrett had garnered the orangutan’s attention, as well as other zoo-goers, who noticed how closely the orangutan was watching.Burrett posted a photo of the moment on Facebook."Now everyone in Melbourne (well not everyone) has a picture of me feeding, as once one person saw what was going on, the word spread fast and they flocked to see what was happening," Burrett wrote alongside the caption. "I felt like I was on exhibit lol.""It was the most beautiful thing," she wrote of her unlikely orangutan encounter.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Pope Francis Arrives for Historic Meeting 1,000 Years in the Making

neneos/iStock Editorial/ThinkStock(HAVANA) -- Pope Francis met Friday with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Havana, bringing the heads of the Russian and Catholic churches together for the first time since Christianity split.Patriarch Kirill was the first of the two leaders to arrive in Cuba. Lengthy Lead Up to the MeetingThe meeting is about 1,000 years in the making, as the two faiths split in the 11th century.Popular convention dates the split of the Catholic and Orthodox churches to the so-called Great Schism in 1054, when the western pope excommunicated the head of the eastern church in Constantinople -- now Istanbul -- over differences in worship practices. The split solidified into centuries of deep hostility, with the two sides differing over a number of doctrinal issues, most importantly the pope’s status as Christianity's supreme authority on earth.Hatreds have cooled in the past century, and both sides now tend to avoid publicly calling each other heretics."There were both surface issues and deeper issues," Monsignor Paul McPartlan, a theology professor at Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University, told ABC News. He noted that the types of bread used for the Eucharist and the question of celibacy for priests were among the surface issues while the deeper issues related to the power structure and geographical spread of the church.Friday's meeting will not actually be the first between an Orthodox Church leader and a pope: In 1964, Pope Paul VI met with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, formally recognized as Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader, but whose authority is contested by the Russian church."That really was the breakthrough for Catholic-Orthodox relations," McPartlan said.On board the plane from the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke briefly to the group of reporters traveling with him and said this trip is one that he and his "brother" Kirill are eagerly anticipating.Location, Location, LocationThe choice of Cuba as the meeting spot also falls under the question of territory, as it is seen as somewhat neutral land because Cuba has long had ties to the Russians but it also has a large Catholic population and it hosted Pope Francis in September.Pope Francis will be in Cuba for only about three hours before heading to Mexico."The meeting has a political, a humanitarian significance," said Yevgeny Nikiforov, a prominent Russian historian of the Church who helps run an Orthodox radio station. "But it has no divine significance."Different Approaches to Religious LeadershipThey are two very different figures: Pope Francis is known for being humble and regularly is driven in a Fiat, while Patriarch Kirill was once spotted wearing a $30,000 watch and is driven by chauffeur in a black Mercedes.Under Kirill, the Russian Orthodox Church has grown close to the Kremlin, to the point where it often acts like a branch of the government. He is extremely close to Putin and often blesses or paves the way for some of Putin's most controversial moves like the anti-gay law and clandestine military action in Crimea.How Will This Change Relations?John Julius Norwich, a best-selling historian of the Byzantine Empire, as well as of the papacy, said he believed the meeting was likely part of a broader effort by Francis to try and strengthen a Catholic church under assault by changing lifestyles in South America and mass violence in the Middle East."It is a step towards reconciliation, there is no question about it,” Norwich said. "But I think it's going to be very much on the surface.""It's angels dancing on the head of a pin," he added. "But they've been involved in it for 1,700 years. It's going to take an awful long time to get over that. I can see it maybe getting to where they are much, much nicer to each other than they have ever been, but deep, deep down still hating each other's guts."Monsignor McPartlan was slightly more optimistic."I think it's a big step forward in ecumenical relations and it's a sign of hope for the world at large," he told ABC News Friday. "Not all of the issues are yet resolved, however, this meeting shows the firm desire for reconciliation and sends a powerful message to the world at large about the need for peace and reconciliation."Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

US and Russia Announce Plan to Increase Syrian Aid and Stop Violence

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Secretary of State John Kerry has announced new steps designed to help eliminate the violence in Syria after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Munich, aiming for a "cessation of hostilities."One of those steps is to expand humanitarian aid in Syria immediately. A new task force will meet Friday to ensure that progress is made in humanitarian aid and access in Syria.  Kerry and Lavrov agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities in one week's time, although he acknowledged that the deadline was ambitious.Kerry said he could not guarantee the outcome of the plan and that the real test is whether all parties will implement it.The leaders also agreed that discussions in Geneva on the ending of violence in Syria should resume as soon as possible they were paused last week.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

British Soldier Hailed a Hero for Tripping Fleeing Suspect

ABC News(NEW YORK) --  The bystander who helped British police capture a suspect last week has been revealed.The British Army said Lance Sergeant Matthew Lawson, 37, was out with his wife last Saturday when he saw police officers chasing a young man who was running toward him. The soldier tripped the suspect, enabling officers to catch and detain him.Kingston police later posted the CCTV footage of the chase online, thanking the good Samaritan and calling him a legend. The British Army revealed his identity on Thursday."I'm not a hero," Lawson told ABC News. "I [was] just helping out." Lawson, who has served in Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, is based at Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace in London."I pay tribute to Matthew's actions in helping the police apprehend this suspect, which underlines the standards and values the armed forces work to, as well as their readiness to help keep us safe even when off-duty," said Penny Mordaunt, minister for the armed forces, in a statement.The 17-year-old suspect was arrested "on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs" and is free on bail. He is scheduled to appear in court in April.Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.