One of history's biggest cases of fraud was uncovered by French banking giant Socièté Generale. Executives of the company said Thursday that $7.14 billion – roughly equal to a year's profit – were lost through fictitious transactions by a trader who appeared to have acted alone. He was fired and his supervisors were resigning, the executives said. The fraud came to light because of heavy sell-offs on European and Asian stock markets in recent days. Above, employees reported for work at the bank's headquarters in Paris Thursday.
Despite efforts to restrain borrowing and investment, China's economy grew by another 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the government reported Thursday. On an annual basis, the growth rate was 11.4 percent, the biggest in 13 years. Analysts speculated that China has pulled to within about 5 percent of the German economy as No. 2 in the world, although the latter's 2007 figures have yet to be released.
A final decision on whether opposition candidate Mikhail Kasyanov will be barred from running for president of Russia will be made Sunday, the Central Election Commission said. But its chief told a news conference that forged registration documents "should" disqualify the former prime minister from the March 2 ballot. Kasyanov (l.), who became an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, trails far behind front-runner Dmitry Medvedev in the race to succeed Vladimir Putin. Still, disqualification could open the Kremlin to accusations that the election is rigged, analysts said.
For the first time since Kenya's troubled Dec. 27 election, President Mwai Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga met Thursday and pledged to work together to end the unrest that has resulted in almost 700 deaths. But at a joint news conference after mediation efforts by former UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan, Kibaki appeared to suggest that he doesn't consider his disputed victory negotiable. Annan said the rivals had made "fair steps" toward resolving the crisis.
Military leaders in Turkey offered no immediate reaction to an agreement between the ruling AK Party and one of its leading opponents on ending the controversial Islamic head scarf ban for female college students. But analysts said the powerful armed forces were unlikely to welcome the agreement, even though opinion polls have shown strong support for lifting the ban. The issue helped to bring an early election for a new parliament last year. The military, which sees itself as guarantor of the secular order, has ousted four governments it viewed as too Islamist.
Warning of a potential "power vacuum," embattled Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi appealed to the nation's Senate not to defeat his government in Thursday night's no-confidence vote. Prodi, who must resign if he loses it, told the legislators, "Italy risks finding itself in a negative economic cycle, which we will face with ... imperfect economic structures." He won a similar vote Wednesday in the lower house of parliament but appeared to have too little support in the upper chamber.
An Air Force transport plane returning from a flight-safety conference in Poland crashed Wednesday night in the worst accident involving the nation's armed forces in more than 30 years. All 20 officers aboard were killed, reports said. The plane was of the same model used by Polish support forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Test flights are expected to begin later this year for SpaceShip Two, entrepreneur Richard Branson said in displaying models of the craft being built to carry paying passengers into weightless, suborbital flight. More than 200 people hold reservations for the two-hour trips, for which Branson's Virgin Galactic is charging $200,000 apiece. Branson's timetable calls for the 60-foot-long craft, which is being built of composite carbon materials, to make its first commercial trip in 2010.