24 July 2013 Last updated at 09:07 GMT

White House attacks plans to curb NSA data collection

The White House is urging Congress to reject an attempt to stop the National Security Agency (NSA) collecting Americans’ phone records.

With a key vote coming up, President Barack Obama’s spokesman said curbs on the NSA would “hastily dismantle” a vital counter-terrorism tool.

NSA chief Gen Keith Alexander spent Tuesday lobbying Congressmen to vote against the proposed measure.

Critics say NSA phone data collection is an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

The details of the programme were made public by Edward Snowden, who had worked for the NSA and is now a fugitive, awaiting a decision on his asylum application in Moscow.

Bulgarian MPs trapped inside parliament by protesters

Riot police free more than 100 MPs and ministers blockaded for more than eight hours as anti-government protests grow

  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 July 2013 08.39 BST

Police in Bulgaria have broken up a blockade of parliament by anti-government protesters to escort out more than 100 MPs and ministers who had been trapped inside the building for more than eight hours.

Police in riot gear pushed away the protesters early on Wednesday and formed a corridor to allow those trapped out of the building.

Protests in Bulgaria’s capital, which have been continuing for 40 days, escalated on Tuesday evening when several hundred demonstrators trapped the officials inside parliament in a bid to oust the left-leaning government.

BRAZIL

Pope Francis shakes up Catholic Church

Many Catholics hope Pope Francis will strengthen laymen and women in church, who have been taking on responsibilities of priests in some rural areas. That might trigger a revolution, experts say.

The Catholic Church in Latin America has a way of dealing with contradictions: Instead of discussing whether women should be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood or debating the celibate, laymen go ahead and create precedents in their religious communities. They’ve come up with new forms of church services – services without a priest. Hopes are high during this year’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that Pope Francis will give more power to ordinary people in the church: the laypersons. That would ultimately change the Catholic Church.

Australian rescue agency failed to help in boat tragedy where 104 drowned

July 24, 2013 – 6:57PM

Natalie O’Brien

Australia’s search and rescue agency has been criticised in a classified government report as not being proactive enough in helping an asylum seeker boat that had made more than 16 calls for help over two days before eventually capsizing, killing 104 men.

The report into the incident, which has been kept under wraps since the tragedy unfolded in June last year, also revealed there was criticism of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) for handing over  responsibility for the stricken boat to its Indonesian counterpart BASARNAS knowing that it had limited ability to conduct long-range search- and-rescue operations.

The report by Customs and Border and Protection was tendered in the West Australian Coroners Court on Wednesday during the resumption of  an inquest into the sinking of that boat, which became known as the  Kaniva or the SIEV 358 on June 21 last year.

South Sudan calls for calm after president sacks government

Sapa-AFP | 24 July, 2013 10:08

Heavily armed South Sudanese troops and police guarded key government institutions in the capital Juba on Wednesday, as radio broadcasts called for calm after the president suspended his cabinet.

Those removed include two of the young country’s most influential leaders — the vice president, Riek Machar, as well as Pagan Amum, the secretary-general of the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The sackings have sparked concern over potential instability in the fledgling nation, awash with guns, riven by ethnic rivalries and still reeling from decades of war.

“We are asking our citizens, please do your duty and go to work,” said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who until his suspension late Tuesday was the information minister and government spokesman.

  Southeast Asia

     Jul 24

COMMENT
A brewing storm in the Western Pacific
By Walden Bello 

A storm is brewing in the Western Pacific. As the Asia-Pacific region descends into a period of destabilizing conflict, the Philippines is quickly becoming a frontline state in the US strategy to contain China – the central thrust of the Obama administration’s so-called “Pivot to Asia”. In the most recent development, the Philippine government has offered the United States greater access to its military bases. 

China’s controversial moves in the Western Pacific have served as a convenient excuse for heightened US military presence in the region. In particular, Beijing’s claim of the whole South China Sea

(including the West Philippine Sea) as Chinese territory has allowed the United States to portray itself as indispensable for protecting the region’s smaller countries from Chinese hegemony. A one-time US colony and ally, the Philippine government has been especially receptive to Washington’s siren call.