VATICAN CITY: Pope warns defiant priests

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Holy Thursday homily, denounced priests who question church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying they were disobeying his authority. Benedict made the rare and explicit criticism from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica. In 2006, Austrian priests began their pastor initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests. Last June, its members essentially threatened a schism, saying the Vatican's refusal to hear their complaints left them no choice but to "follow our conscience and act independently."

ITALY: Party chief quits in scandal

The firebrand founder of a populist anti-immigrant party, whose crucial support kept Silvio Berlusconi in power in three governments, resigned Thursday amid a widening corruption scandal over party funds. Umberto Bossi quit as Northern League secretary at a summit of party officials in Milan and rebuffed pleas by his colleagues to change his mind, a league statement said. Bossi, 70, had made a stunning comeback after a stroke in 2004 left him barely able to speak, and party officials made him league president. He was quoted as saying wrongdoers in a scandal involving alleged skimming of party funds should "pay" for their errors. Bossi himself has denied wrongdoing.

THE EMIRATES: Americans briefly detained

United Arab Emirates authorities temporarily detained members of a U.S.-funded democracy group as they tried to leave the country after their office was ordered closed, U.S. officials said Thursday. The group included the local director of the National Democratic Institute, who was briefly held before leaving, and another staff member who was apparently held longer but also released, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. One other NDI staff member remained in the UAE. The institute was ordered closed last week along with other foreign groups. It was among several foreign groups raided by Egyptian authorities in December. A Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying some groups violated the terms of their license.

MALI: Rebels call truce in north

The rebel group that seized control of the remote north, effectively partitioning the country in two, announced a cease-fire Thursday, saying its military goal had been reached. A spokesman for the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad said the group was allowing humanitarian aid to resume in the north, where shops were looted. On Thursday, gunmen seized seven workers from Algeria's consulate in Gao. Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said the group was taken to an unknown location. Algeria has aggressively fought Islamic extremists on its own soil.

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