Nation & World briefing

Health subsidies — The Obama administration said Friday that it would allow some people to receive federal subsidies for health insurance purchased in the private market outside of health insurance exchanges. The sudden shift was the latest in a series of policy changes, extensions and clarifications by U.S. officials trying to help beneficiaries and minimize political damage to Democrats this election year. U.S. officials said they had agreed to provide such assistance retroactively because technical problems had prevented consumers from using online exchanges to obtain insurance and financial aid in some states.

Border patrol shootings — Under fire for killing 21 people along the Southwest border since 2010, the Border Patrol says its agents use lethal force only “as a last resort,” even as the Cabinet secretary who oversees the agency has promised Congress that he will personally review recent cases “to ensure that we’re getting this right.” A report Thursday documented how a Border Patrol agent on Jan. 16 shot and killed a 31-year-old migrant who appeared to be on his knees or on the ground off a highway in southeastern Arizona.

NC coal ash spill — North Carolina regulators issued notice to Duke Energy on Friday that the company will be cited for violating environmental standards in connection with a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge. Two formal notices issued by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources cite Duke for separate violations of wastewater and stormwater regulations. The agency could levy fines against Duke for the violations, but the amounts have not yet been determined.

Syria militants — The once-tranquil, religiously mixed village of Bisariyeh is seething: Two of its young men who fought alongside the rebels in Syria recently returned home radicalized and staged suicide bombings in Lebanon. The phenomenon is being watched anxiously across the Mideast, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where authorities are moving decisively to prevent citizens from going off to fight in Syria. The developments illustrate how the Syrian war is sending dangerous ripples across a highly combustible region and sparking fears that jihadis will come home with dangerous ideas and turn their weapons against their own countries.

Repeating grades — A new study by researchers at Duke University documented a ripple effect of behavioral problems in schools where students repeated a grade. The research, published online Friday at Teachers College Record, looked at data from more than 79,000 students in 334 North Carolina middle schools. In schools with high numbers of students who repeated a grade, there were more suspensions, substance abuse problems, fights and classroom disruptions. Researchers say the study indicates the decision to hold students back can have negative consequences for their classmates.

Venezuela protests — On the west side of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city, where many of the poor people live under tin roofs, you would hardly know that the country has been stirred by weeks of unrest. Schools operate normally, restaurants serve up arepas, and residents, enjoying the extra days off that President Nicolás Maduro has given the country, prepare to crown their carnival queens. The protests shaking the capital have been dominated by the city’s middle- and upper-class residents. The disconnect between wealthier and poorer areas could seriously limit the impact of the protest movement.

Thai protests cooling — In what appeared to be a major retreat by the movement to overthrow the Thai government, anti-government protesters said Friday that they were abandoning their campaign to shut down Bangkok and would dismantle their blockades of major intersections set up in January. The leader of the main protest group, Suthep Thaugsuban, told a dwindling number of supporters Friday night that he apologized for the inconveniences of the blockades and that demonstrators would adopt a new strategy to disrupt the government from a new base in central Bangkok.

Russian house arrest — Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition figure, was placed under house arrest Friday and ordered not to use the Internet or telephone for two months, thus removing President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic from public life. In his verdict, Judge Artur Karpov of Basmany Court in Moscow ruled that Navalny had violated the terms of a travel ban from a pending criminal case accusing him of defrauding a local branch of the cosmetics producer Yves Rocher of more than $500,000. The stiff restrictions in what is widely seen as a politically charged prosecution will effectively muzzle Navalny, a blogger and politician.

Hoffman overdose — Philip Seymour Hoffman died from taking a combination of heroin, cocaine and other drugs, the New York City medical examiner ruled Friday, a toxic mix that addiction specialists say is not uncommon. Hoffman, 46, who was found Feb. 2 with a needle in his arm on the floor of his Manhattan apartment, also had taken amphetamines and benzodiazepines, which are drugs such as Xanax and Valium that are widely prescribed for anxiety, trouble sleeping and other problems, said a spokeswoman. The death was ruled accidental.