National briefs: Fraud cost U.S. millions in Iraq

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WASHINGTON -- The $40 million shell of an unfinished prison in Iraq's Diyala province; $2 million in laundered cash pocketed by government officials and contractors in Hilla; an $80 invoice on a $1.41 piece of PVC piping from a defense subcontractor near Baghdad.

Those are just three examples of fraudulent and wasteful spending that plagued U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which on Tuesday issued its final report on the U.S. government's $60 billion reconstruction program for that country.

The report identified at least $1.5 billion in wasted or questionable spending during the period from 2004 to 2013. It urged Congress to create a new agency, the Office for Contingency Operations, which would oversee and coordinate such reconstruction in the future, prospectively avoiding some of the worst excesses.

Police fire on Tibetans

BEIJING -- Chinese police officers opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Tibetans who were celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in a volatile area of Sichuan province, injuring nine people, two of them critically, rights advocates reported this week.

The violence occurred Saturday as more than 500 people gathered for a picnic on the slopes of a mountain in the town of Tawu, or Daofu in Chinese, that is considered sacred by local residents.

Zuma reshuffles Cabinet

JOHANNESBURG -- South African President Jacob Zuma fired Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and two others in his Cabinet Tuesday as he seeks to bolster his administration's performance before next year's election.

Mr. Sexwale, who aborted a bid to challenge Mr. Zuma for the top post in the ruling African National Congress in 2007 and took up a Cabinet post instead, was replaced by lawmaker and former labor unionist Connie September.

Afghan 'insider' attack

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan soldier opened fire on coalition forces in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, killing one soldier and wounding at least four others in the first so-called insider attack in more than a month, officials said.

Officials said they did not think the Taliban were responsible for the attack.

Rebels used nerve gas?

UNITED NATIONS -- Russia's U.N. ambassador said Tuesday that Russian experts determined that Syrian rebels made sarin nerve gas and used it in a deadly chemical weapon attack outside Aleppo in March.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin blamed opposition fighters for the March 19 attack in the government-controlled Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal, which he said killed 26 people, including 16 military personnel, and injured 86 others.

The rebels have blamed the government for the attack. The U.S. Britain and France have said they have seen no evidence to indicate that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons.

Also in the world ...

Anatoly Iksanov, the Bolshoi Theater's longtime general director was fired Tuesday and was replaced by Vladimir Urin, who led Moscow's second-biggest opera and ballet company -- Moscow Stanislavsky and the Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater. ... The company behind the New York Stock Exchange will take over running and restoring confidence in the scandal-hit London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR.

-- Compiled from news services

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