— From wire reports
U.S. support in Mali — The United States has decided to provide additional aid to the French military in its campaign against Islamic militants in Mali by conducting aerial refueling missions, which would be a boost to air support for French ground forces as they enter areas that are controlled by al-Qaida-linked extremists. On Saturday, French and Malian troops regained control of the airport and bridge of the crucial northern city of Gao, marking their biggest advance yet in the two-week campaign. The U.S. has already been transporting French troops and equipment to the West African nation.
Gun control march — Thousands of people, many holding signs with names of gun violence victims and messages such as “Ban Assault Weapons Now," joined a rally for gun control on Saturday, marching from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. Participants held signs reading “Gun Control Now," “Stop NRA" and “What Would Jesus Pack?" among other messages. About 100 residents from Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers, traveled to Washington together. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who addressed the crowd, said it’s not about taking away Second Amendment gun rights but about saving lives.
Harkin will retire — Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who championed landmark legislation banning discrimination against people with disabilities, said Saturday that he would retire and not seek re-election next year to a sixth term. The announcement from Harkin sets the stage for one of the most competitive Senate races in the country in the 2014 midterm elections. It will be a crucial contest in the Republican Party’s quest to win control of the chamber from Democrats. “I’ve had the privilege to be here for 40 years," Harkin, 73, said Saturday. Prior to his Senate term he served in the U.S. House.
New action against Hagel — A new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country." That group and several others are waging a campaign to scuttle Hagel’s appointment, reflecting the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions.
Casey Anthony bankruptcy — Court records show that Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2011, sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, claiming about $1,100 in assets and $792,000 in liabilities. Her listed debts include $500,000 for attorney fees and costs for her criminal defense lawyer during the trial. Court papers list about 80 creditors, and Anthony as unemployed.
Bloomberg’s $1 billion in donations — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving $350 million to alma mater Johns Hopkins University, pushing his lifetime giving to the private Baltimore university past $1 billion, the university said Saturday. University officials believe Bloomberg, who earned his fortune creating the global financial services firm Bloomberg LP, is now the first person to give more than $1 billion to a single American university.
Bangladesh factory fire — A fire swept through a two-story garment factory in Bangladesh’s capital Saturday, killing at least seven female workers and injuring another five. The fire at the Smart factory occurred just two months after a blaze killed 112 workers in another factory near Dhaka, raising questions about safety standards and treatment of workers in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry that exports clothes to leading Western retailers.
A move against al-Maliki — In the bloody aftermath of street protests that turned violent on Friday in Fallujah, Iraq’s Parliament passed a law Saturday intended to prevent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from seeking a third term. The parliamentary move was the latest threat to al-Maliki’s hold on power and reflected rising anger among rivals over his rule, but it appeared unlikely that the law, which would need to be approved by Iraq’s president, would ever go in to effect.
Chavez ‘smiling’ — President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is experiencing the “best moment" yet of his recovery from cancer surgery, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Saturday. He emphatically added that Chavez would return to Venezuela and take charge of the government again. Maduro spoke on his return from Cuba, where Chavez had surgery on Dec. 11. “He is smiling — he has a look full of light; he has a special illumination in his thought," Maduro said.
Czech election — Milos Zeman, the former prime minister known for his populism, was elected president on Saturday, becoming the country’s first popularly elected president, though the economist will serve in a largely ceremonial role.