FIFA Scandal: South Africa Says It’s ‘Clean’

Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the soccer world reels from the biggest scandal to hit its sport in recent history, the South African government is fighting back against allegations that it attempted to buy votes in order to host the 2010 World Cup.

“When we concluded the FIFA World Cup here in South Africa we got a clean audit report,” South African Ministry in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said in Cape Town, according to the AFP. “There has never been any suggestion that anything untoward happened in South Africa.”

In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice accused South African officials of offering to pay $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to “support the African diaspora” in 2004, months ahead of the 2010 World Cup venue selection. The DOJ said the money was meant to ensure that then-CFU President Jack Warner, a FIFA executive and current defendant in the FIFA scandal, and two other unnamed co-conspirators would vote for South Africa to be the 2010 World Cup host.

Warner agreed to the deal, but after South Africa won its bid, the country said it could not pay the FIFA officials directly, according to the indictment. Instead, FIFA officials allegedly took $10 million from their own accounts that would have gone to South Africa to support the World Cup and gave it to the CFU.

Prior to that incident, the indictment claims that in the course of South Africa’s relationship with Warner, at one point a “high-ranking South African bid committee official” met a co-conspirator of Warner’s in a Paris hotel room, where the South African official handed over a briefcase full of American money in $10,000 stacks.

The AFP noted that South Africa’s Radebe did not directly address the specific DOJ allegations in his comments to reporters. Warner, who was a central player in several alleged schemes detailed by the DOJ, said in a video posted online Wednesday that he always “conducted [himself] with all FIFA sports practices.” Warner turned himself into local authorities in Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday.

South Africa’s alleged wrongdoing is just one of a series of purported schemes described in the 47-count indictment against 14 people, nine of them high-ranking current or former FIFA officials, unsealed yesterday. Other allegations include conspiracies to secure broadcast or merchandising rights to various football federations or tournaments.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has not been accused of wrongdoing by the DOJ, said the corruption in the world of football “has to stop here and now.”

“We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud,” he said. “Let this be the turning point."

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World Leaders React to FIFA Corruption Scandal

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the corruption scandal surrounding FIFA and world soccer continues to unfold, leaders from around the globe are beginning to chime in.

Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association (FA), the governing body of soccer in England, believes FIFA President Sepp Blatter must go.

"Whether he is involved in any of these shenanigans or not is irrelevant. He is the person who has lead FIFA for 16 years and now we look at the results," Dyke said.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to agree.

"I welcome the probe into allegations of FIFA corruption and bribery, and support the FA's call for new leadership and reform," Cameron tweeted Thursday.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin is not on the same page.

Speaking on Russian state television Thursday, Putin accused the U.S. of meddling and said the investigation was an attempt to block Blatter from being reelected.

"I have no doubt that it is an obvious attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter from being re-elected to the post of FIFA president," Putin said, according to Interfax.

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Lindsey Graham Goes to Israel, Meets with Prime Minister

US Senate(JERUSALEM) -- Days before Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is expected to jump into race for the Republican presidential nomination, the senior senator from South Carolina traveled to Israel Wednesday, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and holding a press conference on his trip.

The purpose of the visit by Graham, a longtime supporter of Israel in Congress, is to discuss U.S.-Israel bilateral relations, and the security concerns the Middle Eastern country faces, according to a release from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The visit comes two weeks after his possible GOP presidential primary opponent Gov. Scott Walker visited Israel on a “listening trip.”

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Cuba, US Expect to Announce Embassy Openings Next Week 

Ruskpp/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Cuba and the United States are expected to formally announce the re-opening of embassies in Havana and D.C. next week, ABC News has been told by two sources close to negotiations.

The announcement is expected to come from their respective capitals, following Friday’s anticipated announcement of Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Cuba is expected to be formally removed from the list 45 days after President Obama announced his intention to remove them, which came in mid-April, and just days after he returned from Panama and the first high-level meeting between the two countries since the diplomatic freeze.

The listing, which included them on a list alongside nations such as Syria, Sudan and Iran, has been a sticking point in the negotiations.

Last week, Cuban diplomats met in D.C. with U.S. diplomats in the latest round of talks since the U.S. and Cuba began negotiating normalization in December.

Both sides expressed optimism and called the talks “very productive,” foreseeing an agreement soon, but sticking points remain.

The major sticking point for Americans has been the freedom for staff to move throughout the country; for the Cubans, it was courses provided to Cuban journalists by the U.S. government at the interests section in Havana, which they say fall outside normal diplomatic activities.

The two countries have only operated lower level Interest Sections since the late 1970s in buildings run by the Swiss.

Diplomatic relations were cut off in 1961, with Fidel Castro calling the U.S. embassy a "nest of spies."

Now, renovations are underway in Havana and D.C. as the two buildings are prepared for full embassies staffed with full level ambassadors.

The date of the re-opening has not been confirmed, but that too may be announced next week.

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UN Report Says World Hunger Decreasing

Purestock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The number of undernourished people in the world has fallen by more than 20 percent since the early 1990s, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said on Wednesday.

In the newest edition of the U.N.'s annual report on world hunger, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is 795 million -- a decrease of 216 million from the period between 1990 and 1992. The new figure still represents 12.9 percent of the population, the FAO says, but is down 23.3 percent from nearly 25 years ago.

The FAO also notes that 72 of 129 countries that it monitors achieved a goal of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015.

The achievements made thus far, FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva says, "shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation."

"If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger, than we must make it a priority to invest in the rural areas of developing countries where most of the world's poorest and hungriest people live," said Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

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India's Deadly Heatwave Melting Roads 

Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DEHLI, India) --  A devastating heatwave has left more than 1,100 people dead over the past month in India, and photos also show the toll on the country's infrastructure.

Temperatures in the cities of Allahabad and Varanasi surpassed 110 degrees on Wednesday, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Photos show asphalt road surfaces melting in New Delhi, disrupting road markings in the city.

A drought in much of India, along with a busy typhoon season, could spell trouble for a billion people in Asia this summer, according to AccuWeather.

El Niño, a warm phase of the fluctuation of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, is likely leading to an above-average number of typhoons and super-typhoons, AccuWeather reports. But El Niño may displace the already-delayed monsoon, leading to below-normal rainfall in India.

Weather officials blamed northwesterly dry and hot winds from the desert state of Rajasthan for the extreme heat.

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How a California Woman Fell in Love With a Vatican Swiss Guard

Jonathan Binaghi and Miranda Emde at the Vatican. Courtesy Miranda Emde(NEW YORK) -- This isn’t a fairy tale. It’s the true story of a woman from Huntington Beach, California, who fell in love after asking a question of a Swiss Guard while on vacation at the Vatican.

Miranda Emde, 31, had written down 16 requirements for her future husband in April 2013 -- among them, that he be a “chivalrous knight” who was “noble, dignified and humble,” and that he be “comfortable in his own skin.”

“I had narrowed it down from about 50, and I knew I would never compromise on my list,” Emde told ABC News.

Six months later, in October 2013, Emde was traveling around Italy with her mom, Martha. They were set to leave Rome the next morning and Emde wanted to figure out a way to come back and stay for good.

“My mom forced me to go up to this Swiss Guard at the St. Anne’s Gate [at the Vatican] and ask him his advice on living here,” Emde said. “We had a spark right away and there was something different about his demeanor I’ve never seen before.”

Emde, a marketing manager for Wells Fargo, and the Vatican guard, Jonathan Binaghi, 31, exchanged e-mail addresses and went their separate ways. The e-mails turned into phone calls and Emde made her way back to Rome in April 2014.

The spark from the first time they met turned into a flame.

“Within three days on my second trip there, I knew I was going to marry him,” said Emde.

Binaghi proposed on May 16, but not before asking Emde’s father for permission.

“My dad asked Jonathan what the meaning of love is and he said, ‘Love is completely giving yourself to someone else and asking for nothing in return,’” Emde told ABC News.

The couple plans to get married in Rome in October. Pope Francis will bless their marriage in a private mass two days after the wedding, Emde said.

Binaghi passes all 16 requirement on Emde’s list, “and then some,” according to Emde.

“It’s still surreal that this is my life,” said the bride-to-be. “I hope my story gives women inspiration [so] they can stick to their list and keep their standards.”

Binaghi -- who is currently in Switzerland, Emde said -- did not immediately respond to requests for comment via social media.

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Fire Engulfs Ship Off Coast of Germany

German Central Command for Maritime Emergencies (CCME)(LONDON) -- A freighter carrying fertilizer was abandoned by its crew off the coast of Germany after the vessel caught on fire, German officials told ABC News.

But after more than two days of smoldering, and a failed attempt to extinguish the flames, the ship is no longer at risk of exploding, German officials said.

Dozens of residents from Bremerhaven and nearby towns called Germany's Central Command for Maritime Emergencies on Monday asking about a large cloud of smoke emanating from a ship sailing off the coast, authorities said.

The 630-foot long cargo named “Purple Beach” was headed for the German port of Brake and had been travelling from the United Kingdom, authorities said.

The fire was initially put out, but it picked up again on Tuesday prompting the crew to evacuate, officials said. Residents were told to keep windows and doors shut as a risk of explosion was reported.

On Wednesday, authorities managed to pour massive streams of water onto the smoking ship and firefighters were able to board the vessel, a spokesman from the Central Command said.

“All of the 26 crew members who had been sent to hospital for monitoring have now been released,” the spokesman added.

Rescue boats are still monitoring the situation, making sure that the temperature of the boat remains stable. In the next few hours, officials will decide whether and how to tow the ship and clear the area.

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Queen Elizabeth Opens New Session of UK Parliament

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Queen Elizabeth II opened a new session of Britain's parliament on Wednesday with the traditional pomp and pageantry.

As expected, she announced plans for a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union during her speech.

"My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union, and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states," the queen said.

"Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017," she added.

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Four Taliban Fighters Killed After Attack on Afghan Guesthouse

iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Four gunmen attacked an upscale neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan overnight, engaging in a fierce firefight with security forces, according to officials.

There were no casualties other than the four gunmen, all of whom were killed.

Police say the attackers were targeting a guesthouse in the area.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier this month, the group attacked another guesthouse in Kabul, killing a dozen people, including an American.

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