BAGHDAD — Iraq’s top Shiite cleric on Friday urged the country’s divided political factions to select a new prime minister by early next week, in a public call for a political solution that increases pressure on the embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Speaking from the holy city of Karbala, Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, a cleric representing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, called on Iraq’s political blocs to select a new leader before the recently elected parliament sits Monday.
Delivering the message from the grand ayatollah, he also urged the factions to select a parliamentary speaker and a president, and for the country to remain whole.
“Iraqis have passed bigger crises than this in the past history,” he said. “We must not think of dividing Iraq as part of a solution for the current crises, the solution must protect the unity of Iraq and the rights of all its sects.
Vatican defrocks archbishop
ROME --The Vatican has defrocked its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, an archbishop from Poland who was accused of sexually abusing boys while he served as the pope’s representative in the Caribbean nation.
The former archbishop, Jozef Wesolowski, 65, is the first papal nuncio known to be removed from the priesthood because of accusations of child sexual abuse. The Vatican announced Friday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse cases, had recently completed his canonical trial. He has two months to appeal the decision.
He still faces a criminal trial by the Vatican because, as a diplomat, he is a citizen of the Vatican city-state. It would be the first such trial held under new rules for criminal procedures implemented by the Vatican last year and a test of Pope Francis’ resolve to turn a page on the long-running sexual abuse scandal..
Russia cancels rocket launch
MOSCOW — The long-awaited inaugural launch of a new Russian space rocket, the Angara, was abruptly canceled Friday just minutes before takeoff, the Russian space agency Roscosmos reported.
The decision to abandon the high-profile launch prompted President Vladimir Putin to order that officials provide an explanation within one hour.
The launch, from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia, was canceled after an automatic “abort” system was triggered, officials said.
Roscosmos tentatively rescheduled for this afternoon, suggesting, at least preliminarily, that the problem was not extremely serious.
Martin Indyk, U.S. Mideast Envoy, Steps Down
U.S. Mideast envoy resigns
WASHINGTON — The State Department said Friday that Martin S. Indyk, who led the yearlong U.S. effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, was resigning from his position as special envoy.
Mr. Indyk, a U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, was named special envoy in July, as Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing for a resumption of peace talks after a three-year suspension.
After a brokered cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in late 2012 and a series of prisoner swaps in early 2013, the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to negotiate a framework for a peace plan, an initial step toward a revival of full negotiations.
Those efforts broke down in April, however, after Israel halted the release of some Palestinian prisoners and as Palestinian leaders formally applied for membership in 15 international conventions and treaties, despite their promise to pause such efforts while a framework was being worked out.
Israel names suspects in abduction case
DURA, West Bank — Israel released the names late Thursday of two Palestinians it says are behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who disappeared while making their way home from their religious school in the West Bank two weeks ago.
The two Palestinian suspects, Marwan Kawasma and Amer Abu Aysha, are operatives in the Islamist militant group Hamas, Israel’s domestic security agency said. Although they have yet to provide direct proof, Israeli intelligence officials said both men remain at large and are the subjects of a manhunt in the West Bank. The two men have been arrested previously for involvement in militant activities, including obtaining materials for explosives and recruiting other Hamas operatives, the security agency said.
Hamas has consistently denied direct involvement, although its leaders have vocally celebrated the teens’ abduction and called for more Israelis to be kidnapped. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, recently began working in a new unity government with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
U.S. faulted over fish inspections
WASHINGTON — Ten Asian and Pacific nations have told the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that the Agriculture Department’s catfish inspection program violates international law, and their objections could hamper Obama administration efforts to reach a major Pacific trade agreement by the end of next year.
They say that the inspection program is a trade barrier erected under the guise of a food safety measure and that it violates the United States’ obligations under World Trade Organization agreements. Among the countries protesting are Vietnam and Malaysia, which are taking part in talks for the trade agreement — known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and have the ability to derail or hold up those negotiations.
The complaints are outlined in a May 28 letter signed by diplomats from the 10 countries. The letter does not threaten retaliation, but it stresses that the U.S. catfish program stood in the way of the trade talks.
— Compiled by news services