The World Meteorological Organization says a 62.3-foot wave occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the United Kingdom, making it the highest-ever wave detected by a buoy. The wave, which was detected on February 4, 2013, and confirmed by an expert committee this week, was created through a strong cold front and winds maxing at more than 50 miles per hour. The committee, which confirmed the wave’s height, consists of scientists from Canada, Spain, the U.K., and the United States. WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang called it “a remarkable record.” In December 2007, a buoy recorded a 59.96-foot in the North Atlantic, which until now held the record. This is not the highest-ever recorded wave, though, as a ship in 2002 detected a 95-foot wave in the North Atlantic. The height of a wave is measured from the crest of the wave to the trough of the next one. Higher waves are more common in the North Atlantic than the South Atlantic because of violent winter storms.
—Uber passengers in San Francisco now have the option to ride in self-driving cars. But California regulators are pushing back. More here
—Intense shelling has halted a plan to evacuate rebels and civilians from eastern Aleppo. More here
—The U.S. Federal Reserve raised its target rate for the first time in a year from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent to a range of 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Largest Buoy-Detected Wave Caps in the Atlantic Ocean
Fed Raises Interest Rates
The U.S. Federal Reserve raised its target rate for the first time in a year from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent to a range of 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent. The decision, which was widely expected, was unanimous. The Federal Open Market Committee based its decision on “realized and expected labor market conditions and inflation.” The Fed in its statement noted that economic activity “has been expanding at a moderate pace since mid-year”; that market-based measures of inflation remained low, but have moved up “considerably”; and “strengthening of labor marker conditions.” Interest rates were taken to zero during the financial crisis of 2008. The Fed last raised them in December 2015, its first rate increase in nearly a decade. Read more here
Uber Launches Self-Driving Fleet in San Francisco
Updated at 7:02 p.m.
Uber passengers in San Francisco now have the option to ride in self-driving cars after the company announced Wednesday the debut of a small self-driving fleet in its hometown. The launch, a continuation of the company’s self-driving pilot program which began in Pittsburgh in September, gives some riders requesting a car the option to be matched with a self-driving Volvo XC90, which will be supervised by a human driver—an experiment Uber says will allow the company to test the technology’s ability to handle the “high traffic density and narrow lanes” of San Francisco. The launch has faced push back from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which in a statement Tuesday said Uber did not have the proper permits to test autonomous cars on California roads. Uber has denied it needs the permit on that grounds its cars are still supervised by humans, arguing “the rules apply to cars that can drive without someone controlling or monitoring them.” Later Wednesday, California regulators ordered Uber to cease this new operation or face legal action.
A Dutch Museum Will Return Ancient Crimean Treasure to Ukraine
A court in Amsterdam ruled Wednesday that treasure on loan to a Dutch museum needs to be returned to Ukraine, not the Crimean museums they came from, a political complication owed to Russia’s annexation of the region. The exhibit in question ran for two years at the Allard Pierson Museum. It featured gold pieces such as helmets, swords, and jewelry created by the Scythians, who rose to power in the region in the 4th century B.C. Normally, they would have been returned to the museum from which they were loaned, but Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 raised questions over ownership. The Dutch court decided to return the artifact to the Ukrainian government, and to let courts in the country decide the matter further. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the ruling meant not only that “the Scythian gold belongs to Ukraine, but Crimea too.” The Russian culture ministry said the decision “grossly violates the principles of international exchanges between museums and the right of the people of Crimea to have access to their own cultural heritage.”
France Extends State of Emergency to July
France’s National Assembly voted Wednesday to extend the state of emergency to July 15, marking the longest uninterrupted state of emergency the country has experienced since the Algerian War (1954-1962). The extension, which was approved by lawmakers in a 288-to-32 vote, will span both the first and second round of France’s upcoming presidential election—a period in which Bruno Le Roux, the country’s new interior minister, said the risk of further attacks is “extremely high.” Wednesday’s vote marks the fifth extension of the state of emergency since it was first established following a number of terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. Under the state of emergency, which grants law enforcement the power to carry out raids without a warrant, French authorities have conducted thousands of property searches and arrested more than 500 people.
Spain Suspends Catalonia's Independence Vote
Spain’s top court has suspended the Catalan regional government’s bid for independence, temporarily halting a resolution that would have allowed a referendum vote next year. Separatists in the northeastern region have fought for years to gain approval from the country’s central government, based in Madrid, and Catalan politicians had said they’d hold the referendum in September 2017. As part of its decision Wednesday, meant to give the court more time to study the legal challenge to the referendum from the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court said Catalan politicians have the duty to “stop or paralyze” any move to ignore the order, or risk possible prosecution. Polls show Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents split on whether they’d actually vote to leave Spain, but it has not stopped politicians in past from holding symbolic votes, like one in 2014. Had that vote been real, it would have passed. Catalonia’s push for independence reaches back centuries, and the region has an individual cultural identity, and its own language. This move for independence has been exacerbated recently with Spain’s economic downturn.
Philippines's Duterte Appears to Suggest He Personally Killed Suspects
Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines president, has said he personally killed criminal suspects when he was mayor of Davao. The remarks, which came in a speech Monday to a business group, were made just hours after Duterte declared in another address that he was “not a killer.” He told the business group that when he was mayor of Davao, he would go around on “a big bike … looking for an encounter to kill.” He added: “I used to do it personally. … Just to show to the [policemen] that if I can do it, why can’t you?” It’s the first time Duterte has acknowledged participating in extrajudicial killings since he became president in June. He has, however, previously acknowledged killing criminal suspects. But many of Duterte’s remarks and claims are contradictory and it’s unclear how much truth there is in them. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, and his alleged support of death squads in Davao, has resulted in criticism from the U.S., UN, and the EU—criticism the Philippines president has dismissed.
Intense Shelling Halts the Evacuation of Civilians and Rebels From Aleppo
Heavy shelling has stopped the evacuation of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo. A cease-fire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, was announced Tuesday. It is unclear who violated the truce first. Rebels and Turkey say the government continued the shelling because it wanted its own fighters evacuated from rebel-held areas. Russia, which supports the government of President Bashar al-Assad, accused the rebels of breaking the cease-fire. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the civil war began more than five years ago, has been divided since 2012. Assad controlled the western part; rebels the eastern portion. But in recent weeks, government troops, backed by Russian airstrikes, have recaptured all—or nearly all—of the city. The UN has accused government troops of indiscriminately killing civilians, a claim that appears to be borne out by social-media accounts from those still in Aleppo, but which the Syrian and Russian governments reject.