Global business

Standard Chartered, a bank based in London that reaps most of its income from Asia, reported a pretax profit of $6.1 billion for 2013, which was 11 percent lower than in 2012 and its first drop in profit in 10 years.

Australia's government announced that it wants to scrap rules that cap foreign ownership of Qantas, the country's biggest airline, at 49 percent. Tony Abbott, the prime minister, said the carrier will be freer to compete if it is "unshackled and un-propped up by government." Qantas recently reported an underlying loss of $224 million for the half year to December and announced 5,000 job cuts. It has struggled to compete on its international routes with the new crop of airlines from the Gulf states, and with Virgin Australia on its home turf.

The Bank of England suspended a member of staff amid an internal review into allegations that officials at the central bank condoned or were informed of manipulation in the foreign-exchange market. It said it had found no evidence so far that any of its employees colluded in rigging rates, but was suspending a staff member while it investigates whether "rigorous internal control processes" were followed. Separate investigations have led to more than 20 traders at several commercial banks being either sacked or suspended.

The Japanese government prepared to draw up plans to regulate Bitcoin and tax transactions involving it, following the collapse of the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange and various hacking incidents.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled that a penalty imposed against Chevron in Ecuador for polluting local villages had been "obtained by corrupt means." The decision gives Chevron ammunition in its long-running legal battle over allegations that Texaco, which it took over in 2001, caused the pollution. The American oil giant has been ordered by an Ecuadorean court to pay $9.5 billion. This week's ruling found that the order had been secured through bribery and coercion by the plaintiffs' lawyer in New York.

Vivendi, a French media conglomerate, received two bids for SFR, a telecoms operator, ahead of a deadline it had set for offers. The bids are from Bouygues, a blue-chip industrial group, and Altice, a cable-TV and mobile-telecoms company backed by Patrick Drahi, a French-Israeli telecoms entrepreneur. Any deal would be scrutinized by Europe's antitrust regulators, but also by the French government, which has made it clear it will not tolerate job cuts.

Cyprus came a step closer to receiving the next tranche of its $14 billion bailout from the E.U. and IMF, when the Cypriot parliament passed an amended bill that will privatize utility companies, with the unions given a larger say in the sale.

Britain's Labour Party weakened its institutional links to unions by, among other things, changing the way it selects its leader to a simple one-person-one-vote system. Ed Miliband, Labour's leader, risked the unions' ire by putting forward the proposals; he won the leadership in 2010 largely because of their support.

Secret recordings were posted on a website of Nicolas Sarkozy discussing the sacking of ministers when he was president of France. The recordings were taken by a former adviser, causing outrage in Mr. Sarkozy's center-right party. More revelations will be drip-fed to the media in coming weeks, possibly hurting Mr. Sarkozy's chances of a comeback for the presidency in 2017.

While Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was visiting the United States, his spokesmen boosted his campaign against an interim U.S. deal with Iran by announcing that Israel's navy had captured rockets with a range of 124 miles that had apparently been dispatched from Damascus via Iran. They were said to have been heading for Port Sudan and then to the Gaza Strip, which abuts Israel.

In one of the worst rows among Gulf states in recent years, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar after alleging that the gas-rich Gulf state, which has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, had been meddling in its neighbors' internal affairs. The Qataris expressed "regret and surprise."

Field-Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the power behind Egypt's government, came close to announcing his candidacy for president, by telling a gathering at a military academy that "procedures will be finalized over the coming days … I cannot turn my back when the majority wants me to run for president."

Gunmen suspected of belonging to Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamist terrorist group rampaged through villages in the northeast of the country, killing scores of people over several days.

Venezuela marked the first anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez. President Nicolás Maduro lauded Chávez's achievements in a ceremony in Caracas; opposition protesters continued with their rolling demonstrations. Maduro broke off ties with Panama, which had requested a debate at the Organization of American States on the political unrest in Venezuela.

Pauline Marois, whose Parti Québécois has led a minority government in Quebec since 2012, called a snap election for April 7. With polls suggesting the PQ will win a majority, the question of the province's secession from Canada could soon be back on the table.

If at first you don't succeed, quit. Johnny Araya, the candidate of the governing centrist party, abandoned campaigning for Costa Rica's presidential election. He is heavily trailing the left's Luis Guillermo Solís in a runoff vote on April 6.

Eight assailants wielding knives killed 29 people and injured about 140 in an attack at the train station in Kunming, a city in southwestern China. Officials blamed separatists from the Uighur ethnic group. Uighurs are Muslims from the northwestern region of Xinjiang, many of whom want an independent state of East Turkestan. The U.S. State Department described the attack as an act of terrorism.

At least 11 people were killed in an attack at a court in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Gunmen burst into the building and opened fire before suicide bombers detonated explosives. The assault came after the Pakistani Taliban pledged a monthlong cease-fire and the government said it would suspend airstrikes against militants. That deal came under yet more pressure when at least six Pakistani soldiers were killed in a bombing.

In Afghanistan at least five Afghan soldiers died after being caught up in a NATO airstrike. NATO is carrying out an investigation.

India's election commission announced that a general election will take place in nine phases between April 7 and May 12, with votes counted on May 16. India's 814 million voters will make this the largest election ever to take place.