Israel

Netanyahu criticized for excessive spending

In a scathing report with potential political and criminal repercussions, Israel's state comptroller sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for excessive spending of public funds in his official and private residences. The report, which came just four weeks before Israeli elections, faulted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for using public funds to spend lavishly on a variety of personal goods and services, including cleaning, clothing, water and grooming, between 2009 and 2012. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said he found the findings infuriating.

Hungary

Protests greet Putin in Budapest

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Budapest for his first official visit to a Western country in more than eight months, stirring protests against the Hungarian government's warming ties with the Kremlin and fears that they will inflict division in the European Union. At least 2,000 Hungarians took to the streets to protest what they see as an unwelcome return to dependence on Moscow for reliable power supplies.

Japan

Nuclear power plant still poses risks

Nearly four years after Japan's massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the country has made "significant progress" toward stabilizing and decommissioning the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, international nuclear inspectors said. However, the nearly 160 million gallons of contaminated water stored on-site pose massive logistical challenges.

France

Possible terror sleeper cells tracked

France is tracking about 400 people believed to belong to possible sleeper cells for terror organizations like Al-Qaida or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the country's top security official said. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve laid out what has become an increasingly urgent question for European intelligence services: How to trace the moment when someone transforms from a disgruntled criminal into a terrorist, and how to block those first steps toward radicalization. Said and Cherif Kouachi were French-born brothers who killed 12 people in Paris on Jan. 7 when they stormed the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Pakistan

Taliban suicide bomber kills at least 5

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a congested Lahore neighborhood after failing to breach the security cordon around police headquarters, killing at least five people and wounding at least 23, officials said. A breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, which it described as retaliation for army operations in the country's tribal areas.

Washington, D.C.

New defense secretary sworn in

Ashton Carter was sworn in as the 25th secretary of defense — and the fourth to serve the Obama administration — taking the oath of office in a White House ceremony where Vice President Joe Biden called him "a thinker and a doer." Carter, 60, takes charge as President Obama is seeking congressional approval for military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Pentagon is contending with deep spending cuts.

NEWS SERVICES