LONDON

Britain’s same-sex marriage bill gets queen’s assent

Queen Elizabeth II gave final approval Wednesday to Britain’s controversial same-sex marriage bill, bestowing her royal assent as is common to all new laws.

The measure passed its final legislative hurdle on Tuesday when the House of Commons approved the bill allowing same-sex couples to marry in religious and civil ceremonies.

The announcement in the House of Commons of the queen’s action prompted cheers from lawmakers.

Previously, gay and lesbian couples could enter into “civil partnerships” in Britain that carry almost the same rights as marriage. About 50,000 partnerships have been registered since 2005.

Under the new legislation, religious clerics of any denomination must “opt in” to offer religious weddings to same-sex couples.

JOHANNESBURG

Mandela, improved, will mark 95th birthday Thursday

Three weeks ago, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero, seemed at death’s door. A family affidavit presented in a court hearing the following week said he was on life support and described his demise as “impending.”

On Wednesday, the eve of his 95th birthday, Mandela was watching television with headphones on, his daughter Zindzi Mandela said.

Describing what she said was a dramatic improvement in Mandela’s health in an interview on British television, Zindzi Mandela said, “I should think he will be going home anytime soon.”

Mandela has been hospitalized since June 8 with a lung infection, the latest in a series in recent months.

HAVANA

North Korea backs Cuba’s claim on hidden weapons

North Korea on Wednesday repeated Cuba’s assertion that the antiquated weapons systems found on a cargo ship in Panama were headed to the Asian county for repair.

Acting on intelligence it hasn’t publicly described, Panama seized the 34-year-old North Korean freighter on July 11 as it headed toward the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal on its way to North Korea.

Hidden under about 240,000 white sacks of raw brown Cuban sugar, Panamanian officials found shipping containers with parts of a radar system for a surface-to-air missile defense system, an apparent violation of U.N. sanctions that bar North Korea from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday: “This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which (North Korea) are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them.”

CLEVELAND

Judge tells kidnapping suspect to pay attention in court

A man accused of holding three women captive for a decade was scolded repeatedly by a judge to raise his head and open his eyes in a brief court appearance where he pleaded not guilty Wednesday to nearly 1,000 counts of kidnap, rape and other crimes. For the most part, Ariel Castro, 53, responded to the judge’s questions with one-word answers.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Pamela Barker repeatedly told him to raise his head and keep his eyes open so “I make sure that you are listening to me and understanding what I’m saying, OK?”

— From news service reports