U.S. journalist detained in Venezuela says he was pushed to support Maduro

Venezuelan security officials who detained an American journalist for more than 12 hours pushed him to voice support for socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whose government faces international condemnation, the journalist said on Thursday. The journalist, Cody Weddle, told reporters who met him at Miami International Airport as he arrived from Caracas that his interrogators had covered his face with a ski mask and accused him of having contacts with senior military officials.

Trump’s Venezuela envoy vows sanctions on banks backing Maduro

President Donald Trump’s special representative for Venezuela pledged on Thursday that Washington would “expand the net” of sanctions on the South American nation, including more on banks supporting President Nicolas Maduro’s government. “There will be more sanctions on financial institutions that are carrying out the orders of the Maduro regime,” the envoy, Elliott Abrams, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.

Waves of people still leaving Islamic State’s last Syrian enclave

Thousands of people could still be left inside Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said, as the waves of evacuations from the tiny area continued on Thursday. The SDF has said it wants to ensure all civilians have been evacuated before launching a final assault on the besieged enclave of Baghouz. It is the last shred of populated territory held by Islamic State, which once controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.

U.S. urges U.N. to restore tough missile restrictions on Iran after tests

The United States accused Iran on Thursday of defying a U.N. Security Council resolution with one ballistic missile test and two satellite launches since December and urged the council to “bring back tougher international restrictions” on Tehran. A 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons after an agreement with six world powers. Some states argue that the language does not make it obligatory.

Under pressure, Canada’s Trudeau denies impropriety, offers no apology

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday denied interfering in Canada’s judicial system as he sought to defuse a crisis threatening his political future, and offered no apology, asserting only that lessons had been learned.

— From Wire Reports

Trudeau called a news conference to address allegations that improper pressure was put on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a criminal trial.

Britain hands jailed British-Iranian aid worker diplomatic protection

Britain will hand diplomatic protection to British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to underline the government’s belief that Iran has behaved unjustly in its treatment of her, foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday. Hunt said while the move, a little-used way for governments to seek protection on behalf of their nationals, was unlikely to be a “magic wand,” it may help Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.

Two U.S. citizens deported from Russia, two others in custody

Russia said on Thursday two U.S. citizens volunteering for the Mormon church had been deported for violations of immigration laws and that two others, described by a church official as “in good spirits,” were in custody. Russia’s Interfax news agency named the two deportees as Kole Brodowski and David Udo Hague and said they had been ordered to leave Russia by a court in the southern port of Novorossiysk on Thursday.

Movement at North Korea ICBM plant viewed as missile-related: South Korea

New activities have been detected at a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles plant, South Korean media said on Thursday, as U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be very disappointed if Pyongyang rebuilt a rocket site. Movement of cargo vehicles were spotted recently around a factory at Sanumdong in Pyongyang, which produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the United States, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo and Donga Ilbo newspapers reported, citing lawmakers briefed by the National Intelligence Service on Tuesday.

UK PM May to EU: Agree to backstop changes or risk disorderly Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May put the onus on the European Union to make concessions over the thorny issue of the Irish backstop in Brexit talks, or risk Britain leaving the EU without a deal, which she said would be against EU interests. The two sides are at an impasse over the so-called backstop aimed at ensuring that there is a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — the only land frontier between the United Kingdom and the bloc.

Hardline cleric named to lead Iran judiciary

Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader who helped oversee the execution of political prisoners in 1988, was named chief of the judiciary on Thursday, a job that positions him to undermine the influence of moderates. Despite his role in executions as deputy prosecutor in Tehran, Raisi’s promotion will make him a contender to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.