VOA NEWS IN SPECIAL ENGLISH

December 14, 2012

A Russian diplomat says Syria's opposition may win in its battle against President Bashar al-Assad. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov admitted for the first time that Syrian government forces are increasingly losing control of the country's territory. He told reporters in Moscow that an opposition victory is possible. Russian media say he accused the West of misstating Russia's position on Syria so they could weaken Russian influence in the Middle East. Also on Thursday, a car bomb killed 16 people in a neighborhood just outside Syria's capital. The attack came a day after an explosion targeted the main entrance of Syria's Interior Ministry in Damascus. At least 16 people died in that explosion.

Officials in Afghanistan say a suicide bomber has killed an American soldier and two Afghan civilians. The attack happened Thursday just hours after American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta left the area. Police officials in Kandahar say the bomber targeted a group of cars from coalition forces. The cars were entering the city's airport. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The European Union's finance ministers have approved the release of more money to Greece. The move ends weeks of fears that Greece might fail in making payments on its debt. The finance chiefs approved a $44-billion payment to the Greek government Thursday. The approval came after the government bought back $41-billion in government bonds from private investors at a greatly reduced price. This enabled the government to cut its debt.

The Venezuelan government says President Hugo Chávez suffered complications from cancer surgery earlier this week. Officials say the president had "corrective measures" and is now recovering. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Mr Chávez bled after Tuesday's surgery in Cuba. But he said on national television Thursday that Mr Chávez is improving. Millions of Venezuelans gathered across the country Wednesday to pray for Mr Chávez.

China has repeated that any UN reaction to North Korea's rocket launch should be "prudent and moderate." America has asked China to put pressure on North Korea to keep its international responsibilities. China is North Korea's top ally and largest trading partner. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday that any UN reaction should try to maintain peace in Korea. Hong Lei said the reaction should also avoid making relations more tense.

American ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from consideration for secretary of state. The current secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is leaving the position soon. President Barack Obama said Ms Rice will continue to be America's top diplomat to the UN and an important adviser. Ms Rice was considered the top candidate for secretary of state. But Republican lawmakers and others have criticized her heavily. They say Ms Rice did not correctly understand or say what happened in an attack on the American embassy in Benghazi earlier this year. President Obama has defended Ms Rice. He says she spoke using the information she had at the time.

When researchers study how the earth was formed, they often dig up evidence from the ground. But when astronomers study the stars, they go on a different kind of dig. Christopher Cruise has more in this report from VOA's Suzanne Presto. "Scientists used the American space agency's Hubble Space Telescope to go as far back in time as possible. And with it, they found seven formerly unknown galaxies, or huge groups of stars, that formed more than 13 billion years ago. John Grunsfeld is with the space agency's Science Mission Directorate. When he looks at some of Hubble's newest images, he sees bright specks of light and spinning colors--reds, yellow(s) and violets. 'These are baby pictures of the universe. It's back to the fundamental origin story. We're always wondering, "Where did we come from and where are we going?" And Hubble is providing answers to both those questions.' A generally accepted theory says the universe began nearly 14 billion years ago with what scientists call the Big Bang. About 400,000 years later, the element hydrogen developed. Richard Ellis is an astrophysicist with the California Institute of Technology. He led the team that discovered the seven oldest ever seen galaxies. His team used Hubble to take the first official census of galaxies born during what scientists have called "cosmic dawn." Mr Ellis says his team studied part of the sky for more than one hundred hours during a six-week period in August and September. The team was looking for galaxies that formed between 350 million and 600 million years after the Big Bang. The astronomers completed the first census in cosmic history and found a galaxy that could be the oldest ever observed. The team says the cosmic dawn probably was not a very exciting event. Instead, it was most likely a slow process. John Grunsfeld describes the cosmic dawn as the period when "the universe emerged from the dark ages." He admits older galaxies exist but they are too far from the Hubble telescope. I'm Christopher Cruise."

The American space agency NASA is going to crash two vehicles into the moon this Monday. It is the last part of a successful operation to map the moon's surface. These controlled crashes have been part of the plan since the mission began. But there will not be any live pictures of the crashes because they will happen in the dark. Another spacecraft will provide data about the crashes. Scientists will use them to identify where the vehicles hit. The goal of the mission is to help future explorers land exactly where they want to on the moon.