Top news: Senate Republicans blocked an effort Thursday to move to a final vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the defense department, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), delaying the confirmation process by at least another 12 days. Republicans denied that the action constituted a filibuster, saying they simply needed more information about Hagel's past, particularly about the speeches he has given since leaving the Senate in 2009. Once that information is provided, at least three Republican senators -- John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr -- say they indent to vote for cloture.
Most analysts believe Hagel will eventually be confirmed, but the delay means that he will miss a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels next week. "It's just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I'm still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies," Obama said Thursday in a Google chat forum. "What seems to be happening, and this has been growing over time, is the Republican minority in the Senate seems to think that the rule now is that you need to have 60 votes for everything. Well, that's not the rule."
Thursday's vote (58 to 40) broke down almost exactly along party lines, exposing yet again the extent to which the Senate's bipartisan traditions have been eroded in recent years. Fear of conservative primary challengers among senior Senate Republicans has stoked partisan tensions further, Democrats say, as those facing reelection in 2014 rush to toe the tea party line.
Russia: A meteorite exploded over central Russia Friday, raining debris down on the city of Chelyabinsk and injuring more 500 people. No fatalities were reported.
- South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius is due to appear in court Friday on murder charges.
- The Malian government announced that presidential elections will be held on July 7.
- In the span of eight days this month, pirates attacked three vessels off the coast of Nigeria.
- Syrian rebels claimed Thursday to have taken control of the eastern province of Hasaka.
- Police killed one protester and injured dozens more on the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain.
- A court in Kuwait acquitted five activists accused of insulting the emir on Twitter.
- Representatives from 27 Pakistani political parties called Thursday for the government to enter peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
- South Korea has been unable to detect any radioactive isotopes from North Korea's nuclear test, stymying efforts to determine whether a plutonium or uranium-based device was used.
- Gen. Lloyd Austin, President Obama's nominee to lead the U.S. Central Command, supported keeping a larger Afghan force after 2014 than the current NATO plans call for.
- Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the release of three soldiers arrested by Chilean authorities in January.
- Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said Thursday that she would take additional steps to prevent foreign capital flows from pushing the country's currency higher.
- A top Mexican security official said Thursday that the government will ask the United States to shift anti-drug aid away from intelligence and training and toward social programs.
- Serbian authorities uncovered a plot to bring down a plane carrying Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.
- Spanish authorities arrested 11 members of a cybercrime network that was spreading ransomware designed to extort money from victims.
- The Eurozone economy shrank .6 percent in the final quarter of 2012 as Germany reported worse-than-expected output numbers.