COVERAGE PLANNED IN EUROPE ON THURSDAY, DEC. 20:
LONDON — Wikileaks says that its founder, Julian Assange, will address the crowd in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy to mark 6 months of his asylum there. 7 p.m.
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin to take' questions during an annual news conference that traditionally lasts for several hours. He is certain to be asked about Syria, the opposition protesters and his health.
BUCHAREST, Romania —Britain's ambassador and others hand out hot meals in freezing temperatures to the city's homeless at the Gara de Nord railway station in an effort to underscore the problem in the Romanian capital where an estimated 5,000 sleep rough in conditions so precarious that 300 die a year from the cold and illness.
MADRID — Former Bankia chairman and ex-IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato is to appear before the National Court to answer questions concerning his stewardship of the bailed-out entity. Anti-corruption prosecutors filed a complaint against Rato accusing him and some 30 others of falsifying the bank's accounts when it went public in 2011, among other alleged offenses.
LISBON, Portugal — Bailed-out Portugal's government may announce after its weekly Cabinet meeting whether it is selling debt-heavy flag carrier TAP Air Portugal to the sole bidder — Latin America's Synergy Aerospace. If the sale goes ahead, the privatization would suggest a turnaround in traditional investment flows between Europe and South America.
LONDON — Office for National Statistics releases monthly data on retail sales (0930 GMT)
FRANKFURT, Germany — European Systemic Risk Board holds meeting.
TOP EUROPE STORIES MOVED WEDNESDAY, DEC. 19:
GENEVA — Switzerland's UBS AG agreed Wednesday to pay some $1.5 billion in fines to international regulators following a probe into the rigging of a key global interest rate. In admitting to fraud in its Japanese unit, Switzerland's largest bank became the second bank, after Britain's Barclays PLC, to settle over the rate-rigging scandal. The fine, which will be paid to authorities in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland, also comes just over a week after HSBC PLC agreed to pay nearly $2 billion for alleged money laundering. By John Heilprin.
LONDON — A BBC review has absolved senior executives of trying to bury an explosive story about one of its best-known children's television stars, saying management errors were to blame for the fact that a planned expose on pedophilia allegations against the late Jimmy Savile was canceled. Institutional chaos and confusion — but not a cover-up — were to blame for the BBC's disastrous decision to scupper the "Newsnight" program, the review found Wednesday. By Raphael Satter.
MOSCOW — The anesthesiologist was performing surgery when masked police burst into the hospital and arrested him, still wearing his medical clothes, leaving the patient lying unconscious on the operating table. Now Marat Gunashev faces charges of helping organize an attack by Islamic militants three years ago that killed the police chief in Makhachkala, their hometown in Russia's restive Caucasus region. His brother-in-law, fellow doctor Shamil Gasanov, was arrested in the same case, but he won't get his day in court. His decapitated body was returned to his relatives, who say they suspect police blew off his head with a grenade launcher. By Max Seddon.
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan — A Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American, a Russian and a Canadian headed Wednesday for the International Space Station, where they will spend four months carrying out dozens of experiments. The spacecraft launched from a Russian-leased manned-space facility in the frigid steppes of Kazakhstan at 6:12 p.m. (1212 GMT). It took off atop a towering Russian rocket and went into orbit about 15 minutes later. By Peter Leonard.
MOSCOW — Russia's parliament on Wednesday gave overwhelming preliminary approval to a measure banning Americans from adopting Russian children, a harsh retaliatory move against U.S. human rights legislation. But the proposal appears to be too extreme for some senior Russian officials. The foreign minister and the education minister spoke out flatly against an adoption ban, and the speaker of the upper house of parliament, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, suggested the lower house members were letting emotions overtake rationality. By Jim Heintz.
LONDON — The last missing member of an NBC team that was kidnapped in Syria has been freed and is safely in Turkey, NBC News executives said Wednesday. Ian Rivers was part of the NBC team led by the network's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. They were kidnapped in Syria on Thursday, and Engel and several other members escaped unharmed on Monday. By Gregory Katz.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's prime minister and president have agreed to set aside their bitter rivalry for the good of the country and to stop insulting each other. Victor Ponta said Wednesday that he and President Traian Basescu signed an agreement to cooperate last week after Ponta's center-left alliance won 68 percent of seats in Dec. 9 parliamentary elections. By Alison Mutler.
LONDON — Detectives are probing "very serious" allegations that a police officer fabricated claims against a U.K. lawmaker who was forced to quit a Cabinet post after being accused of insulting police with the term "pleb," the prime minister said Wednesday. Andrew Mitchell quit as the government's chief whip after he was accused of hurling the word "pleb" at officers who stopped him from riding his bicycle through the Downing Street gates in September. Mitchell admitted swearing, but denied calling anyone a "pleb" — a demeaning reference to working-class people that touched a nerve in this class-conscious country. By Jill Lawless.
PARIS — Dominique Strauss-Kahn's legal problems are not over. French judges decided Wednesday not to drop pimping charges against the former International Monetary Fund chief, according to his lawyers, who had sought to have the case thrown out. They quickly vowed to appeal. By Jamey Keaten.
ALGIERS, Algeria — French President Francois Hollande says he wants to open a new era with Algeria, once the former French colonial empire's prized colony, and form a strategic partnership among equals. Hollande said at a news conference Wednesday, the first day of his state visit to the North African nation, that the new era will allow France and Algeria to not only turn a page but "to write so many others." By Aomar Ouali and Elaine Ganley.
LONDON — The lead singer of British rock band Lostprophets appeared in court Wednesday charged with child sex offenses including conspiring with a woman to rape a 1-year-old girl. Prosecutors said Ian Watkins also is accused of conspiring to engage in sexual touching with two children; possessing, making and distributing indecent images; and possessing "extreme" animal pornography.
LONDON — Britain says it will award a medal to veterans of the Arctic convoys that brought essential supplies to besieged Russia during World War II. Veterans have battled for decades for a campaign medal for the convoys, which braved icy weather, rough seas and attacks from German ships, U-boats and planes.
TBILISI, Georgia — Two ex-ministers and four other former officials have been detained in Georgia amid a wave of arrests and criminal charges against top officials in the government of pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili. The crackdown follows the victory of a political coalition headed by eccentric billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in October's parliament election. Appointed prime minister, Ivanishvili pledged to investigate alleged abuses by Saakashvili's protégés. Several officials have been arrested and face charges including abuse of office, illegal detentions and obtaining personal data through hacking.
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted leaders of five other ex-Soviet nations for economic and security talks, as the Kremlin rejected U.S. claims that Russia aims to rebuild the Soviet empire. Putin held talks in the Kremlin with leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are members of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. By Vladimir Isachenkov.
MILAN — An Italian judge has found four international banks guilty of fraud in a case involving the sale of derivatives to the city of Milan and ordered the confiscation of €88 million ($117 million). Judge Oscar Magi on Wednesday convicted Deutsche Bank, UBS, JP Morgan and Depfa Bank, as well as nine current and former bankers. In Italy, institutions may be held responsible as well individuals. The individuals received suspended sentences of six months to eight months.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic's lower house of parliament has approved unpopular austerity measures that had threatened to cause the downfall of the center-right coalition government. In Wednesday's 102-88 vote, lawmakers overturned the upper house's veto to approve a 1 percent increase in the sales tax on retail goods and a 7 percent income tax increase for the highest earners.
BRUSSELS — The European Union's health chief on Wednesday called for bigger warnings on cigarette packs and bans on certain flavorings like menthol, strawberry and vanilla, which can draw youngsters to smoking. EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said legal proposals for a bigger crackdown on tobacco were aimed at reducing smoking-related deaths, which stand at around 700,000 a year in the 27-nation EU. By Raf Casert.