February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict resigns. Egyptian protesters rally on Mubarak ouster anniversary. I'm Ray Kouguell reporting from Washington.

Pope Benedict resigned, effective at the end of the month. It is the first time a pope has taken such action in almost 600 years. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Pope Benedict surprised a high-level church meeting at the Vatican with his announcement. According to a text published later, he told the gathering he believes that "in today's world," a pope must be strong enough to speak and engage in activities, and that his own health "has deteriorated" in recent months.

The pope, who is 85 years old, said he has "had to recognize" his "incapacity to adequately fulfill" his ministry. He said his "strengths, due to an advancing age, are no longer suited" to the demands of the job.

VOA's Al Pessin.

Vatican officials hold the conclaves to elect a new pope before Easter, which this year is on March 31.

The unexpected resignation has Roman Catholics worldwide speculating on who will replace his as leader of the largest Christian denomination. Many believe the next pope should come from the developing world, particularly Latin America where Catholicism is a dominant religion, or Africa where the number of Catholics is growing.

But there is also growing sentiment that the next pope could be from North America--Canada or the United States.

Turkish media say the explosion of a car near the border between Turkey and Syria killed at least 12 people and wounded almost 30 others. Officials say three of those killed were Turkish and the rest Syrians.

A Turkish TV station says the blast occurred Monday on Turkish soil about 40 meters from a southern border crossing.

The cause is under investigation.

A report published Monday by The Washington Post says Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah have been building a militia network in Syria to preserve their interests if President Bashar Assad's government collapses.

Citing unnamed senior US and Middle Eastern officials, the report says the militia's immediate goal is to support Mr Assad's military as it battles rebel forces in a civil war approaching its third year.

Egyptian protesters frustrated with President Mohamed Morsi's government clashed with police Monday in Cairo, during rallies marking the second anniversary of former leader Hosni Mubarak's resignation.

Police used water cannon and volleys of tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators outside the presidential palace, where several hundred protesters have gathered.

A delegation of Afghan religious leaders was in Islamabad Monday for talks with their Pakistan counterparts on the reconciliation process between militants and the Afghan government. But the meeting appears to ended in a deadlock. Sharon Behn explains.

A group of eight Afghan religious scholars held a 10-hour session in Islamabad with their Pakistani religious counterparts to discuss the details of a special religious gathering, or "ulema jirga."

But after Monday's talks, a member of the Pakistani delegation, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, told VOA that the two sides had failed to produce a written agreement on what he said were the Pakistani side's two basic conditions for the Kabul gathering: first, that the Afghan Taliban be included in it; and, secondly, that no religious edicts, or fatwas, be issued against the Afghan Taliban and no statements be made in favor of the Afghan government.

Sharon Behn, Islamabad.

The head of Guinea's armed forces and other senior Guinean military officials have been killed in a plane crash in Liberia. Officials in Guinea and Liberia say there are among all 11 people on board who died in the plane crash Monday in Charlesville, about 45 kilometers southeast of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

President Obama ordered the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor, to an Army veteran who fought off Taliban fighters in an intense, day-long battle in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama said the actions of then Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha on that day in October 2009 saved the lives of Americans in the remote, 50-man outpost near the border with Pakistan.

Despite being wounded, he led a counter-attack to hold the outpost, calling in air strikes and helping to recover fallen comrades. Eight US soldiers were killed in the attack. Twenty-two soldiers were wounded, including Sergeant Romesha, who expressed mixed emotions about the medal.

"I'm feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear. The joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields, but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies, my battle buddies, my soldiers, my friends."

Sergeant Romesha is the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I'm Ray Kouguell, VOA news. More on the Internet at voanews.com.