No $1 trillion coin — The Treasury Department said Saturday it will not mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to head off an imminent battle with Congress over raising the government’s borrowing limit. The Obama administration has indicated that the only way for the country to avoid a cash-management crisis as soon as next month is for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. By virtue of an obscure law meant to apply to commemorative coins, the Treasury secretary could order the production of a high-denomination platinum coin and deposit it at the Federal Reserve, where it would count as a government asset and give the country more breathing room under its debt ceiling.
Battle to retake Mali — The fighting to drive out al-Qaida-linked groups controlling northern Mali began Saturday, after hundreds of French forces deployed to the country and began aerial bombardments to drive back the Islamic extremists. Nations in West Africa authorized the immediate deployment of troops, fast-forwarding a military intervention that was not due until September. Militants seized half of Mali nine months ago and were pushing farther south.
Cruise ship wreckage — One year after the luxury liner Costa Concordia ran aground off the Tuscan coast, taking 32 lives, its wreck still lies there. On Saturday, salvage companies announced that the ship could be removed by summer’s end, a few months behind schedule. The island of Giglio is preparing to commemorate the disaster today, the first anniversary of the wreck, with a Mass for families of victims and survivors. The ship was carrying 4,229 passengers and crew members on a Mediterranean cruise when it went aground.
Chief of staff pick — President Barack Obama is settling on Denis McDonough, currently a deputy national security adviser, to be his next chief of staff, succeeding Jack Lew. The chief of staff serves as the president’s gatekeeper, making the position one of the most powerful in the White House. Lew has been nominated for Treasury secretary. McDonough, 43, would be Obama’s fifth chief of staff.
Afghan drawdown — President Barack Obama on Saturday confirmed plans for an accelerated drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying that Afghan troops will soon take the lead in battling Taliban rebels. “Our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaida can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America," he said in his weekly radio address. U.S forces have been mired in the Central Asian nation since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in what has become the longest war in U.S. history. Roughly half a million soldiers have served there over that period, with more than 2,000 dead.
Northern Ireland protest — At least 29 police were injured Saturday as protesters clashed in the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast in an ongoing dispute about the province’s ties to Britain. About 1,000 British loyalists demonstrated peacefully at first until they ran into a group of Irish nationalists, sparking renewed fighting. A summit to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict is set for this week.
Australia fires — Fires continued to rage across southeast Australia on Saturday as a heat wave drove temperatures to new highs. The afternoon temperature hit 121 degrees in Moomba, a remote town in the outback — the hottest yet in the two-week stretch of the heat wave. More than 100 bush fires were being fought across the state of New South Wales while others, many out of control, burned in parts of Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. So far, around 865,000 acres have been scorched.
Lenin tomb to stay put — Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display in Red Square since 1924; now another influential Vladimir, Putin, has made clear that Lenin’s tomb isn’t going anywhere else. The current Russian president recently compared Lenin’s polished granite mausoleum to the relics of saints on display in Orthodox monasteries. “We must return to our historic roots," he said, with “traditional values." The remarks come alongside other proposals to revive symbolic elements of the old Soviet system, including bringing back a workers’ medal awarded to particularly industrious laborers. Lenin’s tenancy in Red Square has been questioned since the arrival of the reformist political movement called perestroika in the mid-1980s.
800 hunt for pythons — An armed mob set out into the Florida Everglades on Saturday to flush out a scaly invader. It sounds like the second act of a sci-fi horror flick, but really it’s pretty much Florida’s plan for dealing with an infestation of Burmese pythons that are eating their way through a fragile ecosystem. Nearly 800 people signed up for the monthlong “Python Challenge" that started Saturday afternoon. The vast majority — 749 — are members of the general public who lack the permits usually required to harvest pythons on public lands. The state is offering cash prizes to whoever brings in the longest python and whoever bags the most pythons by the time the competition ends at midnight Feb. 10.
— From wire reports