Defense minister quits amid uproar over travel partner

After days of resisting opposition calls to resign, Britain’s defense secretary, Liam Fox, has surrendered to the clamor to quit over his controversial relationship with a businessman who styled himself as a ministerial adviser.

Fox’s friendship with Adam Werrity had been under scrutiny since reports emerged that he had accompanied the defense secretary on 18 overseas visits, despite holding no official post. Critics have demanded to know who paid for Werrity’s travel.

“I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred,” Fox said Friday in a resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The resignation of a senior Cabinet minister is a blow to Cameron’s government, but also removes from office a politician from the Conservative party’s right wing who had once been viewed as an internal rival to the prime minister.

LISBON, Portugal

American fugitive fighting extradition to United States

A court has allowed captured American fugitive George Wright to leave jail and stay at his Portuguese home while he fights extradition to the U.S., his lawyer said Friday.

A judge hearing the case released Wright from custody on condition he remains at his house near Lisbon and wears an electronic tag that monitors his movements, lawyer Manuel Luis Ferreira said.

Wright spent seven years in a U.S. prison for a 1962 murder in New Jersey before escaping in 1970, and was on the run for 41 years until his arrest in Portugal almost three weeks ago. Wright had been held in a Lisbon jail since he was caught.

“He can’t leave the house and he can’t speak about the case to anyone,” Ferreira told The Associated Press.

Under Portuguese law, court proceedings and police investigations are confidential.

The U.S. is trying to extradite him to serve the rest of his 15- to 30-year sentence.


‘Facebook Rapist’ pleads guilty, gets 50-year sentence

He sent Facebook messages to young women offering them modeling careers, then lured them to hotels or remote places, raped them, slashed their faces and stole their belongings.

In a Durban court Friday, South Africa’s “Facebook Rapist,” 22-year-old Thabo Bester, was sentenced to 50 years in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of rape and two of aggravated armed robbery.

Bester, whose Facebook name was Thomas Bester, broke down several times in court, pleading that he had been a victim of rape himself. He told of a miserable life, raised on a farm by an alcoholic grandmother and abused. He said he never knew his parents.

But prosecutor Lolly Soobramany said Bester was a danger to society and that his victims would live with the trauma of his attacks for the rest of their lives.

South Africa has one of the highest rape rates in the world, and it is still on the rise. More than 56,000 women report being raped annually, but activists say the actual rate could be as much as nine times higher.


Berlusconi wins confidence vote; economy still reeling

Premier Silvio Berlusconi kept his job Friday after a crucial confidence vote in Parliament, but financial analysts and critics were skeptical that would resolve Italy’s increasingly severe economic troubles.

Berlusconi’s conservatives won in a 316-301 vote in Parliament’s lower house, barely above an absolute majority in the 630-seat house. After days of tension, the premier’s allies clapped with relief when the vote was announced, while opposition lawmakers described it as a Pyrrhic victory.

Protesters in Rome chanted anti-government slogans, shouting “Shame!” and hurling eggs toward Parliament. Italian TV reports from Milan showed about 20 young people trying unsuccessfully to enter a building where Goldman Sachs has its office, and spraying red paint on the entrance.

“The best signal that Italy could have sent to the markets would have been to boot Mr. Berlusconi out, but it has failed to do so,” said Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define an Economic Think Tank, shortly after the vote. “With Mr. Berlusconi still at the helm, there is nothing that Italy can do from within that will restore market confidence.”


Likely date set for exchange of Israeli soldier held captive

An Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants will likely return home Tuesday, said a spokeswoman for his family on Friday, ending a five-year ordeal for his family and the country.

Sgt. Gilad Schalit will be freed by the militant Islamic Hamas in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in a deal first announced last week by the two sides.

The Tuesday date from the family spokeswoman was the highest level indication so far of the timing for the first phase of the exchange.

In the first phase, Schalit is set to be swapped for some 450 Palestinian prisoners. About 550 prisoners would be released two months later, according to the deal.

The military chief of staff warned that unexpected events could delay the deal, Shienkman said.


Queen Elizabeth II will havea second great-grandchild

Buckingham Palace says Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn are expecting their second child in March, which will be Queen Elizabeth II’s second great-grandchild.

The palace said Friday that the Queen, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and Autumn’s family are delighted by the news.

The couple already have a daughter Savannah – born in December – who is 12th in line to the throne and was the queen’s first great-grandchild.

— From news service reports