In our news wrap Wednesday, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah announced he’s stepping down hours before the diplomatic deal with Cuba was announced. Shah had overseen the agency’s involvement in secret programs in Cuba. Also, Pakistan mourned and buried victims of a Taliban attack on an army-run school.
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She was a much-loved head teacher buried today by her grieving husband and son. Tahira Kazi was just one of 148 killed yesterday in an atrocity which has shocked Pakistan into three days of national mourning, and the army vowing revenge for every drop of spilt blood.
WOMAN (through translator):
I'm proud of my mother. She had the chance to get out, but she stayed at her post. She didn't leave the children alone. She gave her life for them.
Inside her school, the roll call of honor still stands amid walls pockmarked with bullet holes and hatred, a bloodied exercise book, an abandoned shoe, students trapped in their seats by gunmen who shot at close range. And the Pakistan emerging from this massacre seems determined to be tougher.
The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said he was reintroducing the death penalty. Sitting alongside him at this political summit, his rival, Imran Khan, who has postponed protests intended to force the prime minister from office. The heads of the army and intelligence flew to Afghanistan, demanding cooperation, the army claiming yesterday's attack was planned from Afghan soil.
Pakistan's most wanted is Mullah Fazlullah, though even if this Taliban commander is found and handed over, Pakistanis protesting all over the country today are demanding action first and foremost at home.
The Taliban says the attack was retaliation for an ongoing offensive by the Pakistani military.
In Eastern Syria, more than 230 bodies have been found in a mass grave near the border with Iraq. A Syrian human rights group says the victims appear to be from a tribe that fought against the Islamic State group. The militants now control most of the province where the mass grave is located. Other members of the tribe found it when they were allowed to return home.
In Yemen, Shiite rebels who already control key parts of the country have made another big move. They closed a strategic Red Sea port today. The rebels seized the site back in October, a month after sweeping through the capital city, Sanaa.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today promised a thorough investigation into Monday's siege in Sydney that left two hostages and the gunman dead. Abbott confirmed that the shooter, Man Haron Monis, had been dropped from a government watch list for reasons that are not clear.
TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia:
We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence, such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime. And we do need to know why he seems to have fallen off our security agencies' watch list.
Monis was convicted and sentenced last year to community service for sending abusive letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Justice Department today announced its largest criminal case ever involving contaminated medicine. Fourteen suspects were charged in a 2012 outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 people. It was traced to tainted injections from a now-defunct pharmaceutical company in Massachusetts.
In Boston, U.S. attorney Carmen Ortiz said the medicine was made in filthy conditions.
CARMEN ORTIZ, U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts: They knew that the drugs that eventually killed 64 people and injured hundreds more could not be and shouldn't have been injected into patients. And yet they continued to make and sell those drugs, labeled them as injectable, which meant that they were sterile, and dispensed them throughout the country.
The charges range from corruption and racketeering to second-degree murder.
A South Carolina judge has thrown out the conviction of a black teenager who was executed in 1944. Fourteen-year-old George Stinney was charged with the murder of two young white girls. An all-white jury convicted him after a one-day trial, and he died in the state's electric chair just three months later. The judge ruled today that Stinney was the victim of a great injustice.
The Federal Reserve Bank signaled today that it's getting closer to raising interest rates. At the same time, the Central Bank said that it will be patient in deciding just when to act. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said policy-makers will be guided by the strength of economic data and the level of inflation.
JANET YELLEN, Federal Reserve Chair:
A number of committee participants have indicated that, in their view, conditions could be appropriate by the middle of next year, but there is no preset time and there are a range of views as to when the appropriate conditions will likely fall in place. So that's something we will be watching closely as the year unfolds.
On Wall Street, stocks shot higher on the news that the Fed has no immediate plans to raise rates. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 288 points to close near 17,357. The Nasdaq rose 96 points to close at 4,644. And the S&P 500 added 40 to finish just under 2,013. The gains were also fueled by a small increase in the price of oil.
Russia's Finance Ministry resorted to selling some of its foreign exchange reserves today, in another bid to shore up the ruble. The currency had lost 15 percent of its value just this week, but the ministry's move triggered a moderate rally today.
The state of New York will soon ban the gas-drilling technique known as fracking. That announcement today followed a long-awaited state review that cited unresolved health risks. Fracking involves injecting chemically treated water at high pressure deep into shale deposits. New York has banned shale gas development since 2008. Now the environmental commissioner plans to make the ban permanent.
And the 2014 midterm elections are now finally over. Republican Martha McSally was declared the winner today of a U.S. House race in Arizona. She edged out Democratic incumbent Ron Barber in a recount by 167 votes. That's for the seat once held by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011. Republicans will have 247 House seats in the new Congress, the most since Herbert Hoover was president.