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In Brief | Nation & World | 12-11-13


Obama, Castro handshake unlikely to undo 50 years of antagonism

HAVANA — It was the briefest of moments, just seconds, two presidents shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries amid a gaggle of world leaders together to honor the late Nelson Mandela.

It would hardly have been noteworthy, except the men locking hands in Johannesburg were Barack Obama and Raul Castro, whose nations have been mired in Cold War antagonism for more than five decades.

A single, cordial gesture is unlikely to wash away bad blood dating back to the Eisenhower administration. But in a year that has seen both sides take small steps at improving the relationship, the handshake stoked talk of further rapprochement.

“On the one hand you shouldn’t make too much of this. Relations between Cuba and the United States are not changing tomorrow because they shook hands,” said Geoff Thale, a Cuba analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based think tank.

He contrasted the moment to a 2002 development summit where then-Mexican President Vicente Fox asked Fidel Castro to leave to avoid having him in the same room as U.S. President George W. Bush.

2 French troops die, civilian death toll up as violence ravages C. African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic — More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic, aid officials said Tuesday, as France reported that gunmen killed two of its soldiers who were part of the intervention to disarm thousands of rebels accused of attacking civilians.

Aid workers have collected 461 bodies across Bangui, the capital, since Thursday, said Antoine Mbao Bogo of the local Red Cross. But that latest figure does not include the scores of Muslim victims whose bodies were brought to mosques for burial.

The government of the predominantly Christian country was overthrown in March by Muslim rebels from the country’s north. While the rebels claimed no religious motive for seizing power, months of resentment and hostility erupted last week in a wave of violence.

The French deaths came as French President Francois Hollande arrived for a visit to France’s former colony, heading into the tumultuous capital after attending a memorial in South Africa for Nelson Mandela.

“The mission is dangerous. We know it,” Hollande told troops in a huge airport hangar after paying respects at the coffins of the two young soldiers. “But it is necessary in order to avoid carnage.”

Snow pushes into New England after causing widespread closures along Eastern seaboard

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A snowstorm pushed into New England on Tuesday, making for messy travel conditions after causing widespread school and government closures in the nation’s capital and elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard.

With snow totals measured in inches instead of feet, the storm was more nuisance than menace, but it was timed to hit morning and afternoon commutes in the densely populated Northeast.

Hundreds of transportation crews were out treating and plowing highways in New England, where up to 4 inches of snow was expected in some places. State police in Connecticut said there had been more than 80 crashes by late morning, with eight minor injuries.

Public schools were closed in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and parts of Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some schools in Connecticut were closed, while a few districts in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts planned early dismissals or canceled afternoon activities.

Flight delays were reported in Philadelphia and New York City-area airports.

By wire sources