BBC World News 2013-01-24

BBC News with Marion Marshall

There’s been a strong reaction in European capitals to plans from Britain to renegotiate its membership of the European Union. The Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted to stay in the EU but said there should be a referendum on the issue. Gavin Hewitt reports.

Europe’s leaders and officials have been wary and uneasy at the prospect of David Cameron’s speech. In the event, it drew a mixed response. Some saw it as reckless, putting at risk Britain’s place in Europe. Others supported his call for a leaner, more flexible EU. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to say she was prepared to talk about Britain’s wishes, but she said a fair compromise was needed. The German and French leaders had coordinated their responses to the speech. The French too are willing to discuss a more open, leaner EU. What would be unacceptable to Paris would be a Europe a la carte.

The US House of Representatives has voted to allow the government to keep borrowing extra money for another four months, deferring a possible debt crisis, which would have brought the administration to a standstill. The measure was welcomed by the White House. From Washington, here’s Paul Adams.

With the possibility looming that the US might default on its debt obligations for the first time, the Republicans have decided not to pick a fight with Barack Obama, at least not now. Until an abrupt change of course at the end of last week, they had been threatening to demand spending cuts to offset raising country’s borrowing limit. This move sure to be endorsed by the Senate puts off one fiscal crisis, but another over sweeping cuts in defence and domestic spending due to take effect at the beginning of March is waiting in the winds.

Officials at the Pentagon say the American Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is to remove the ban on women in the military serving in combat. The decision, which is expected to be announced formally on Thursday, makes women available for hundreds of thousands of frontline positions and elite commando jobs, something never before known in the United States military. But Pentagon commanders will still be allowed to make a case for any specific post they think should remain closed to women.

The Supreme Court in Mexico has ruled that a Frenchwoman sentenced to 60 years in prison on kidnapping charges should be set free. The case against Florence Cassez led to a serious diplomatic rift between France and Mexico. Will Grant reports from Mexico City.

It was the result which Florence Cassez had been hoping for for seven years since she was first accused of being part of a kidnapping ring in December 2005. Three of five Supreme Court judges ruled there were serious irregularities in the legal process against her and ordered her immediate release from her 60-year prison sentence. Since she was first detained, Florence Cassez has consistently accused the authorities in Mexico of using shaky witness statements against her and of denying her consular assistance.

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Medical officials in Iraq say 21 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque north of the capital Baghdad. Hospital sources told the BBC that 65 others were injured. The bomber detonated his explosives inside the mosque in the town of Tuz Khurmato, a largely Turkmen town south of Kirkuk. A funeral was taking place there at the time of the attack.

The judge heading a review of India’s laws against rape and other sex crimes has launched a stinging attack on the way India is governed. The retired Chief Justice JS Verma said a failure to enforce India’s existing laws was at the root of discrimination against women. The review was produced in response to the fatal rape of a student in Delhi last month.

Controversial research is set to resume on artificially creating a new highly contagious form of the H5N1 bird flu virus, which could be spread by humans. Rebecca Morelle reports.

With just a few mutations, the H5N1 virus can jump from its current form that’s lethal in birds to one that spreads among humans. But when scientists announced they’d done this in the lab, the news was met with shock. And with concerns over containment, the scientists put their research on hold. One year on though and they are ready to resume. Their labs, they claim, meet the highest safety standards and this work could help to fight the constantly evolving virus. But some researchers warn that while the risk of the pathogen escaping is small, the consequences could be catastrophic.

The White House says President Obama will go ahead with the nomination of General John Allen as the new Supreme Nato Commander in Europe after a Pentagon investigation cleared him of possible misconduct in a series of email exchanges described as flirtatious with the Florida socialite Jill Kelley. The messages by General Allen came to light while the FBI were investigating threatening emails being sent to Mrs Kelley by her former lover of the then CIA director David Petraeus.

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