World Briefs: Martial law in Thailand

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BANGKOK -- Thailand's army declared martial law in a surprise announcement in Bangkok before dawn today, intensifying the turbulent nation's deepening political crisis. The military, however, denied a coup d'etat was underway.

The move came after six months of anti-government demonstrations aimed at ousting the government and one day after the Southeast Asian country's caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, refused to step down.

An army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, told The Associated Press "this is definitely not a coup. This is only to provide safety to the people and the people can still carry on their lives as normal."

The deadlock in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has been worsening since former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house in December and a court ousted her and nine Cabinet ministers earlier this month for abuse of power.

Credit Suisse pleads guilty

WASHINGTON -- European bank Credit Suisse AG pleaded guilty Monday to helping wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes through secret offshore accounts and agreed to pay about $2.6 billion.

The Justice Department said it was the largest penalty imposed in any criminal tax case. It is also the largest bank to plead guilty in more than 20 years.

The settlement resolves a yearslong criminal investigation into allegations that Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second-largest bank, recruited U.S. clients to open Swiss accounts, helped them conceal the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and enabled misconduct by bank employees. The case is part of an Obama administration crackdown on foreign banks believed to be helping U.S. taxpayers hide assets.

Iraqi PM's bloc sees gains

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved closer to winning a third term Monday as his Shiite-dominated political bloc emerged firmly in first place in the country's first parliamentary elections since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. The challenge now for Mr. Maliki is to build a ruling coalition as violence rages and instability grows.

The parliamentary election came at a perilous moment for Iraq, with the country sinking back into a brutal cycle of bloodshed that claimed more than 8,800 lives last year alone.

USAID: Food effort works

WASHINGTON -- An Obama administration program set up to reduce chronic hunger and poverty has contributed to rising incomes for farmers around the world and helped save millions of people from starvation, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The program, Feed the Future, has helped more than 7 million small farmers increase crop production and has provided nutritional foods to 12.5 million children in countries hit hard by drought, war or poor development, the report said.

Leap in Syria death toll?

BEIRUT -- The death toll in the three-year Syrian conflict has risen to about 162,000, an increase of more than 10,000 in less than two months, according to an anti-government monitoring group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of the few organizations still attempting to keep an exact count.

The conflict has also displaced nearly half the country's population.

-- Compiled from news services



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