WASHINGTON -- The largest U.S.-based companies added $206 billion to their stockpiles of offshore profits last year, parking earnings in low-tax countries until Congress gives them a reason not to.
The multinational companies have accumulated $1.95 trillion outside the U.S., up 11.8 percent from a year earlier, according to securities filings from 307 corporations reviewed by Bloomberg News. Three U.S.-based companies -- Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp.-- added $37.5 billion, or 18.2 percent of the total increase.
"The loopholes in our tax code right now give such a big reward to companies that use gimmicks to make it look like they earn their profits offshore," said Dan Smith, a tax and budget advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which seeks to counteract corporate influence.
Israel limits exemptions
JERUSALEM -- After years of heated public debate and political wrangling, Israel's Parliament on Wednesday approved landmark legislation that will eventually eliminate exemptions from compulsory military service for ultra-Orthodox students enrolled in seminaries.
The issue has become a social and political lightning rod in a country where most Israeli Jewish 18-year-olds are subjected to compulsory military service for up to three years.
Key evidence displayed
PRETORIA, South Africa -- A South African police officer swung a cricket bat at Oscar Pistorius' bullet-marked bathroom door during his murder trial on Wednesday, using two key pieces of evidence to re-enact the night he killed his girlfriend.
Police Col. J.G. Vermeulen faced tough questioning from Mr. Pistorius' defense lawyer, who tried to discredit the police investigation of the shooting and alleged that Col. Vermeulen, a forensic expert, made glaring missteps in his analysis.
Gunmen kill 15 in attack
ISLAMABAD -- Dozens of gang members angered over the killing of one of their leaders opened fire on passers-by outside a market Wednesday in southern Pakistan, killing 15 people, police said.
The gunmen used machine guns and grenades in the attack that wounded more than 40 people in the Lyari neighborhood of Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province.
Protests in Turkey spread
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Protesters clashed with police in cities throughout Turkey and two people were reportedly killed, as unrest spread after the funeral of a teenager who died from injuries sustained during last summer's Gezi Park rallies in Istanbul.
Tens of thousands of Turks turned out in Istanbul for the funeral Wednesday of Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma for nine months after receiving a head wound from a tear-gas canister. Many of those attending later clashed with police, who used tear gas and water cannons. One demonstrator was killed in the Kurtulus district near the central Taksim Square, Hurriyet newspaper said.
Iran's president in Oman
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iran's President Hassan Rouhani held talks with the leader of the nearby sultanate of Oman on Wednesday, his first official trip to an Arab country since taking office last year.
The visit is aimed at boosting bilateral relations between the two countries, though it also has the potential to further ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and Western powers.