Top of the Agenda: Weighing the Pope’s Sudden Resignation
Pope Benedict XVI will resign (Reuters) at the end of the month after nearly eight years as the head of the Catholic Church, saying he is too old to continue at the age of eighty-five. The unexpected announcement marks the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years, surprising even his closest aides (AP). At seventy-eight, the German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest new popes in history when elected, and had been considering stepping down (BBC) for months after being advised by his doctor not to take any more transatlantic trips. The Vatican says it expects a new pope to be elected before Easter.
"After the Pole John Paul and German-born Benedict, the post once reserved for Italians is now open to all. Who gets the nod depends on the profile of the new pope that the cardinals who elect him at the next conclave think will guide the Church best. Two senior Vatican officials recently dropped surprisingly clear hints about possible successors. The upshot of their remarks is that the next pope could well be from Latin America," writes Tom Heneghan for Reuters.
"In the absence of a clear frontrunner the field is open to a number of contenders, possibly leading to the election of a pontiff from the developing world for the first time. Commentators are already suggesting that Pope Benedict, known as a stern theologian, could play an influential role behind the scenes in the process to find his successor," write Guy Dinmore and Ferdinando Giugliano for the Financial Times.
"Pope Benedict XVI, who will resign later this month, broke with both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama on several key policy issues during his time at the Vatican. Benedict, who was elected to lead the world's Catholics in 2005, took issue with the war in Iraq, even as he praised Bush on abortion-related issues," writes Katie Glueck for Politico.
Japan Donates Boats to Philippines
Japan plans to donate patrol boats (AFP) to the Philippines in a ramp-up of regional efforts to monitor China's maritime activity in the disputed waters near the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. Japan will likely finance the deal starting in April, and officially sign it early next year.
SOUTH KOREA: The South Korean military is aiming to develop unmanned attack helicopters (Yonhap) capable of hitting North Korea's front-line bases as a way to counter growing threats.
Roughly thirty-six people died Sunday in a stampede (NYT) at a train station in Allahabad, India, when worshippers crowded platforms for Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious festival that occurs once every twelve years by the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers.
AFGHANISTAN: Gen. Joseph F. Dunford took over Sunday as the likely last U.S. commander (LAT) in Afghanistan, where the U.S.-led NATO coalition has closed three-quarters of its 800 bases.
Syrian Opposition Open to Talks
Syrian opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said he is willing to hold talks with regime representatives in rebel-held areas of northern Syria in a bid to end the conflict (al-Jazeera) that has killed more than sixty thousand people.
BAHRAIN: Bahrain's government and opposition groups held a first round of talks (DeutscheWelle) on Sunday in an attempt to negotiate an end to the political crisis that began with protests in 2011.
Mali Troops Battle in Gao
Malian troops battled with Islamist forces in the northern town of Gao on Sunday, carrying out house-to-house searches for militants (BBC), who appear to have reentered the town in boats across the Niger River and regrouped in a building previously used as the headquarters forthe Islamic police.
NIGERIA: Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria killed three North Korean doctors (AP), beheading one of the physicians in the latest attack on health workers.
EU Finance Ministers Meet
Ministers from the seventeen-member eurozone met in Brussels Monday to discuss aid (Bloomberg) to Cyprus and Greece as a tightening election in Italy and a political scandal in Spain have shaken markets. Last week, EU leaders reached a seven-year budget agreement that, for the first time, cuts spending.
Venezuela devalued its currency (MercoPress) as ailing President Hugo Chavez attempts to narrow a widening fiscal gap. The new exchange rate falls by 32 percent to 6.3 bolivars per dollar starting February13, marking the fifth time in nine years Venezuela has devalued its currency.
MEXICO: Violence claimed the lives of 1,104 people in Mexico last month, the government reported (LAHT), showing a slight decrease of three percent from December.