Nigerian army: 6,000 extremists defect
LAGOS, Nigeria -- The Nigerian army says nearly 6,000 Islamic extremists have surrendered in the country's northeast in recent weeks, marking one of the largest defections since the 12-year insurgency began.
The announcement Thursday by military spokesman Bernard Onyeuko comes several weeks after the army said some 335 militants had laid down their arms.
The defections also follow the reported death in May of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, whose control had been substantially weakened in recent years as a breakaway faction known as Islamic State West Africa Province rose to prominence.
The faction's leader has said Shekau detonated explosives, killing himself after a battle between the two groups. Analysts believe some of the militants may now be defecting because they do not want to join the faction.
Borno State Gov. Babagana Zulum has supported the surrendering of the militants but acknowledged that the defections put the state in a "very difficult situation."
"We have to choose between an endless war or to cautiously accept the surrendered terrorists, which is really painful and difficult for anyone that has lost loved ones, difficult for all of us and even for the military, whose colleagues have died," Zulum said last month.
Greek measure on migrant rescues ripped
ATHENS, Greece -- Europe's top human-rights body called on Greece's parliament Friday to withdraw articles included in draft legislation that would impose heavy penalties on nongovernmental organizations that carry out unsanctioned rescue operations of migrants at sea.
The Council of Europe's human-rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement that the proposed changes would "seriously hinder the life-saving work."
Greece's center-right government has toughened border controls since taking office two years ago and has promised additional restrictions in response to the crisis in Afghanistan. It has recently extended a border wall along its frontier and installed a high-tech surveillance network.
Under legislation being debated in parliament, members of charities involved in rescue operations conducted without coast guard permission could be jailed for up to a year and fined the equivalent of $1,190, with the NGOs facing additional fines. The bill is also aimed at simplifying and speeding up deportation procedures.
Mijatovic said some of the measures in the bill had been toughened after a period of public consultation.
"Civil society organizations are instrumental in protecting the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and play a major role in reporting and documenting pushbacks or other human rights violations," she said.
Lithuania, China at odds over Taiwan
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuania recalled its ambassador to China on Friday after the Baltic country's decision in July to allow self-governing Taiwan to open an office in its capital under its own name.
The Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Diana Mickeviciene had been recalled from Beijing for consultations "following the Chinese government statement on August 10."
Last month, China recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and told the country to "immediately rectify its wrong decision, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path."
The statement referred to "potential consequences" if Lithuania allowed the office to open.
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry expressed regret over China's action and stressed that while respecting the "one China" principle, it stands ready to develop mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan, just as many other countries do.
China says Taiwan is part of its territory and doesn't have the right to diplomatic recognition, although the island maintains informal ties with all major nations through trade offices that act as de facto embassies, including in the U.S. and Japan.
Israeli missiles intercepted, Syria says
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria says it shot down Israeli missiles as they approached Damascus on Friday, saying it had countered an "aggression" from its longtime adversary.
State news agency SANA said Syria shot down most of the missiles, which were launched from the area southeast of neighboring Lebanon and targeted areas near Damascus.
The Israeli military did not acknowledge any airstrikes, though it has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years.
It said only that a surface-to-air missile launched from Syrian territory toward Israeli air space exploded over the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, and that residents in central Israel had located several missile fragments on the ground.
Israel views Iranian entrenchment on its northern frontier as a red line, and it has repeatedly struck what it says are Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanese Hezbollah. The Iran-backed militant group is fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the country's long-running civil war.