World briefs: Francis fires German bishop

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VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis on Wednesday fired a senior German prelate, known as the "bling bishop," following his fall into disrepute for using church funds to build an expensive home for himself.

Limburg Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 54, had already been suspended by the pontiff in October, after the alleged $43 million bill for renovation work on his residence triggered a major scandal in Germany.

According to reports, the renovation work that the fired bishop had commissioned in Limburg, a town in the West German state of Hesse, included the fitting of a $20,000 bathtub.

Space docking delayed

MOSCOW -- A software glitch on a Russian spacecraft heading to the International Space Station has delayed the arrival of three astronauts, including an American.

NASA said the crew was in no danger, and the U.S.-Russia space partnership was strong despite tensions over Ukraine.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA's Steve Swanson blasted off early Wednesday and was scheduled to dock six hours later. Because of the glitch, the trip will now take two days.

More killings at zoo

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- The Copenhagen Zoo, which generated global outrage last month when it killed a healthy 18-month-old giraffe named Marius, said it had to euthanize four lions this week to clear the path for a newly arrived young male lion.

The zoo's decision created a backlash on social media Wednesday, with some calling the zoo's staff members "serial killers" and "murderers."

The zoo justified the killings of the two parents, age 14 and 16, and their cubs on the grounds of genetic purity and conservation, noting that the new lion would invariably prey on the cubs, while there was a risk that the older male lion would try to breed with one of the female lions who were his offspring.

Kerry talks with leaders

AMMAN, Jordan -- In an effort to salvage the Middle East peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Amman Wednesday to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

The talks between Israelis and the Palestinians have been jeopardized by a dispute over the expected release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

With the talks at a critical point, Mr. Kerry interrupted a trip to Rome for a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Mr. Kerry also spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during his flight to Jordan and was is expected to confer again with the Israeli leader after his meeting with Mr. Abbas Wednesday night.

Also in the world ...

A Pakistani government team held direct talks with the Taliban after traveling Wednesday to a secret location in the country's northwest, part of a push by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to strike a peace deal to end an insurgency that has killed thousands of people. Although previous governments have spoken with Taliban representatives, these are the first such negotiations since Mr. Sharif took office last June. ... North Korea test-fired two medium-range ballistic missiles Wednesday, South Korea and U.S. officials said, a defiant challenge to a rare three-way summit of its rivals Seoul, Tokyo and Washington that focused on the North's security threat. The launch violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.


-- Compiled from news services

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