World Briefs

Vatican raises possibility of early March conclave

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican raised the possibility Saturday that the conclave to elect the next pope might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date possible under current rules that require a 15- to 20-day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Vatican rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that “this is a question that people are discussing.”

“It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy” to move up the start of the conclave, he said.

The 15- to 20-day waiting period is in place to allow time for all cardinals who don’t live in Rome to arrive, under the usual circumstance of a pope dying. But in this case, the cardinals already know that this pontificate will end Feb. 28 with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and therefore can get to Rome in plenty of time to take part in the conclave, Lombardi said.

The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Palm Sunday Mass followed by Easter Sunday on March 31. In order to have a new pope in place in time for the most solemn liturgical period on the church calendar, he would need to be installed by March 17 because of the strong tradition to hold installation Mass on a Sunday.

Cuba reports powerful meteorite explosion

HAVANA – Cuba apparently experienced a phenomenon last week similar to but smaller than the meteorite that detonated over Russia on Friday, island media reported, with startled residents describing a bright light in the sky and a loud explosion that shook windows and walls.

There were no reports of any injuries or damage such as those caused by the Russia meteorite.

In a video from a state TV newscast posted on the website CubaSi late Friday, unidentified residents of the central city of Rodas, near Cienfuegos, said the explosion was impressive.

“On Tuesday, we left home to fish around 5 in the afternoon, and around 8 o’clock, we saw a light in the heavens and then a big ball of fire, bigger than the sun,” one local man said in the video.

Suicide attack kills 4 in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber, pretending to ask for help, assassinated a senior Iraqi military official and three bodyguards at his home Saturday in the north, officials said.

Brig. Gen. Ali Aouni, head of the Iraq Defense Ministry’s intelligence academy, and his bodyguards were killed when the bomber detonated his explosive vest just as Aouni was leaving his house in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said.

The suicide bomber, who was waiting outside of Aouni’s house, told the guards that he wanted Aouni to help him on some matter. When the guards opened a gate to let Aouni’s car through, the bomber blew himself up.

There was no claim of responsibly for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida’s local franchise. Violence has decreased in Iraq, but insurgent attacks are still frequent.

Afghan leader says he’ll ban airstrike requests

KABUL, Afghanistan – Angry about civilian deaths, President Hamid Karzai announced plans Saturday to ban Afghan security forces from requesting international airstrikes on residential areas.

If he issues the decree as promised, the move would pose a significant new challenge to government troops who have relied heavily on foreign air power to give them an advantage against insurgents on the battlefield even as the U.S. and other countries prepare to end their combat mission in less than two years.

The declaration came as anger mounted about a joint Afghan-NATO operation last week that Afghan officials said killed 10 civilians, including women and children, in northeast Kunar province.

Civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces, particularly airstrikes, have been among the most divisive issues of the 11-year-old war and have complicated negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the foreign presence in the country after 2014.

Associated Press

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