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The world in brief: U.S. downs drone nearing troops in Syria

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | February 16, 2023 at 3:46 a.m.

U.S. downs drone nearing troops in Syria

BEIRUT -- U.S. forces shot down an Iranian-made drone flying over a base housing American troops in northeastern Syria, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

The incident comes more than a week after a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey and Syria, followed by a significant deescalation of violence across the war-torn country.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the reconnaissance drone flew over Mission Support Site Conoco on Tuesday afternoon before American forces shot it down.

No group claimed responsibility for flying the drone in northeastern Syria, where it is not uncommon for bases housing U.S. troops to come under rocket fire or mortar attacks. Iran-backed militia are based nearby, as are sleeper cells of the Islamic State group that was defeated in Syria in March 2019.

There are roughly 900 U.S. troops in Syria, including in the north and farther south and east, who work alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces targeting IS militants and their sleeper cells.

Berlusconi acquitted of witness-bribing

MILAN -- Italian former Premier Silvio Berlusconi was found innocent Wednesday of witness tampering, in a trial related to the sexually charged "bunga bunga" parties he held at his villa near Milan while he was in office.

The 6-year-old trial is the third and likely final one in a scandal that made headlines around the world in 2010 when Berlusconi -- as a sitting premier -- faced charges of having paid for sex with an underage girl. He was eventually acquitted.

In the third trial, Berlusconi faced charges of paying off witnesses to lie in earlier trials. Prosecutors had sought a six-year prison sentence for him, along with $10.7 million in damages. A further 28 people, including the woman at the center of the scandal, Karima el-Mahroug, were also all found innocent on Wednesday.

"I am very happy," el-Mahroug told reporters after hearing the acquittal, adding that it showed she had always spoken the truth. "I just need a moment to assimilate this fact, to believe it."

Berlusconi was not present as the verdict was read, but in an Instagram post said the acquittal had ended years of "suffering, of mud and of incalculable political damage."

His lawyer, Federico Cecconi, called the verdict, which formally found no crime had been committed, "the fullest acquittal we could achieve."

Quake hits near New Zealand's capital

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck near the New Zealand capital Wellington on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, as the nation grapples with widespread landslides and flooding across a sodden landscape after a cyclone.

New Zealand's National Emergency Management Center tweeted that the shake was "widely felt in the North Island." There were no immediate reports of damage or injury and no tsunami warning.

The quake struck under the Cook Strait that separates the North and South Islands at a depth of 50 miles, the survey reported.

Wellington is on the southern end of the more populous North Island, which is responding to a cyclone this week that has left four people dead and is the South Pacific nation's most destructive weather event in decades.

While Cyclone Gabrielle is moving away from New Zealand, an unrelated weather system is forecast to bring more heavy rain in the days ahead, which will increase risks of further landslides and flooding.

The nation of 5 million people sits on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.

An earthquake in Christchurch on the South Island in 2011 killed 185 people and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

Shut by protests, Machu Picchu reopens

LIMA, Peru -- Peru's Machu Picchu, an Inca-era stone citadel nestled in its southeastern jungle, reopened on Wednesday after being closed nearly a month ago amid antigovernment protests, the culture ministry announced.

Agreements were made between authorities, social groups and the local tourism industry to guarantee the security of the famed tourist attraction and transport services.

Protests calling for the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and members of Peru's Congress have shaken the region, including Cuzco, for more than two months. The demonstrations caused a blockade of the train tracks leading to the stone citadel.

The protests have led to 60 deaths: 48 are civilians who died in clashes with the security forces; 11 civilians killed in traffic accidents related to road blockades; and one policeman who died inside a patrol car when it was set on fire, according to data from the Ombudsman's Office.

The closure of Machu Picchu, on Jan. 21, forced the government to airlift more than 400 tourists from Machu Picchu to the city of Cusco by helicopter.

Machu Picchu was built by the Incas in the 15th century as a religious sanctuary high in Andes Mountains.

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