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Alan and Judy Gross walk through a parking garage after arriving for a news conference in WashingtonBy Daniel Trotta and Steve Holland HAVANA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba agreed on Wednesday to restore diplomatic ties that Washington severed more than 50 years ago, and President Barack Obama called for an end to the long economic embargo against its old Cold War enemy. After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a phone call on Tuesday on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the opening of embassies in each other's countries, and an easing of some restrictions on commerce. ...


Afghan security forces inspect at the site of a suicide attack in KabulKABUL (Reuters) - One policeman was killed and two were injured on the outskirts of the Afghan capital on Thursday, in a blast caused by a suicide bomber attempting to enter Kabul in a vehicle laden with explosives, an interior ministry spokesman said. "A patrol was sent around 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. to look for the suicide car bomber, but unfortunately the bomber was able to detonate his explosives," spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters by telephone. The attack took place in a village just beyond the airport, he said. (Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


A man lights candles to mourn the victims from the Army Public School in Peshawar, which was attack by Taliban gunmen, in KarachiBy Mehreen Zahra-Malik PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan on Wednesday began burying 132 students killed in a grisly attack on their school by Taliban militants that has heaped pressure on the government to do more to tackle an increasingly aggressive Taliban insurgency. The authorities, long accused of not being tough enough on extremists, quickly pointed the finger at Afghanistan, suggesting the neighboring nation was not doing enough to catch Pakistani Taliban commanders hiding on its territory. ...


Russia's Economy Minister Ulyukayev attends the VTB Capital "Russia Calling!" Investment Forum in MoscowMOSCOW (Reuters) - Western sanctions over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis are likely to last "for a very long time", possibly decades, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told Vedomosti newspaper. "When a U.S. law is passed it is very hard to change it afterwards - looks like it will be in place for decades," Ulyukayev said in an interview published on Thursday. Russia's economy is heading for recession, dragged lower by sanctions imposed by the West over Ukraine and weak oil prices, a cornerstone of state revenues. ...


Iranian refugee Man Haron Monis speaks in this still image taken from undated file footageBy Jane Wardell SYDNEY (Reuters) - One hostage the Sydney siege gunman failed to take this week was social media. After traditional media refused to air or print details of phone calls his hostages made, Man Haron Monis turned to Facebook and YouTube, forcing his captives to use their personal accounts to issue his demands to speak to the prime minister and spread claims that he'd planted bombs around the city. Those messages never went viral. ...


By Aditya Kalra NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's space agency successfully tested on Thursday its most powerful satellite launch vehicle that can put heavier payloads into space, and, it hopes, win India a bigger slice of the $300 billion global space industry. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) also checked the working of an unmanned crew module on the vehicle, which could give the agency the option of manned missions. ...

Australian batsman Steven Smith reacts after hitting a half century during play on day two of the second cricket test against India in Brisbane, Australia, Thursday, December 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Steve Smith continued his unbeaten run with a half century in his first test match as captain, guiding Australia to 221-4 in reply to India's 408 before bad light stopped play on day two of the second cricket test.


This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, Randall Park, center, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." North Korea has been linked to the unprecedented act of cyberwarfare against Sony Pictures that exposed tens of thousands of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorist attacks that ultimately drove the studio to cancel all release plans for "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Ed Araquel)NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. official says North Korea is linked to the unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures which exposed a trove of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorism, driving the studio to cancel release of the movie "The Interview" believed to be the motive for the cyberattack.


FILE - In this July 23, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig leads off first during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh. Twenty-five Cuban-born players appeared in the major leagues this year, a group that includes outfielders Puig and Yoenys Cespedes, and hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman. Fred Claire can see the day when Major League Baseball teams open academies for prospects in Cuba. "It's absolutely a natural, just as the Dominican was and Venezuela. You go to where the talent is," the former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager said Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. "The high talent level for Cuban players is still there." (AP Photo/File)If one ripple from the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations means baseball prospects get off the island and into the major leagues without payoffs to smugglers and threats from kidnappers, it's hard to see the downside.


MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Yevtushenkov, a Russian tycoon placed under house arrest in September in a move that rattled markets, has reportedly been released from under house arrest just hours before President Vladimir Putin's annual televised press conference.
SYDNEY (AP) — The siege at the Sydney cafe had been going on for more than five hours and 82-year-old John O'Brien had become convinced the gunman was insane and they would likely all end up dead. And so he made a decision, one he knew came with a cost: he was going to try to escape.

Maiduguri (Nigeria) (AFP) - Boko Haram militants killed 32 people and kidnapped scores of others in an attack on the village of Gumsuri in Nigeria's restive northeast, two local officials and a witness said Thursday.


STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Support for Sweden's Social Democrat-Green ruling coalition has grown after the government earlier in December said it planned to call a snap election, a poll published in daily Dagens Nyheter showed on Thursday. The governing Social Democrats and Greens plus the Left party which offers support from outside government had the backing of 44.1 percent of Swedish voters, a poll by Ipsos said, up from 42.1 percent in Ipsos' last poll in November. Support for Sweden's main center-right opposition fell to 40.8 percent in December from 41.9 percent in November. ...
By Matt Siegel SYDNEY (Reuters) - Human rights groups and some politicians on Thursday urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott not to use a deadly siege in Sydney as a pretext to crack down on refugees after he repeatedly questioned why the attacker had received political asylum and welfare benefits in Australia. Police killed Iranian-born Man Haron Monis when they stormed a cafe early on Tuesday morning to free hostages he'd held at gunpoint for 16 hours. Police are investigating whether two hostages who also died were killed by the self-styled sheikh or were hit in the crossfire. ...

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - At least 28 people were killed and dozens were injured in clashes between armed groups in the Central African Republic, police said on Thursday.


By Jessica Donati KABUL (Reuters) - Chantelle Taylor is a former combat medic who fought in one of Britain's bloodiest battles in Afghanistan and wrote about her experience as a rare woman on the front line. Written in a neutral tone, "Battleworn" reads like an ordinary soldier's diary and documents hardship and bravery at a small outpost in Helmand province, where two-thirds of the company was wounded in battle. Publishers told Taylor no one would want to read a war story written by a woman and asked her to sex it up with romance. ...
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Scores at stumps Thursday on the second day of the second cricket test between Australia and India at the Gabba:

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, of Spain, is congratulated by teammates after sinking a last-second basket against the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, to send the NBA basketball game into a second overtime Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in San Antonio. Memphis won 117-116 in triple overtime. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)Your Top Plays for Today: AP's Sports Guide


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police officer was killed and another three wounded on Thursday when a suspected suicide bomber they were following detonated the explosives in his vehicle, an official said.

People stand outside in Little Havana on December 17, 2014 in Miami, FloridaPope Francis led a chorus of global plaudits for Wednesday's breakthrough in US-Cuban relations, hailed as "historic" in Europe and South America and prompting celebrations on the streets of Havana. In a personal coup for the pope, it emerged that the Vatican had played a central role in bringing together the global capitalist superpower and the tiny communist island. The Vatican said the pope had appealed to US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro to end the standoff, offering negotiators his offices in October, paving the way for "solutions acceptable to both parties". Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state now seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, endorsed Obama's move.


The facade of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. Global stocks were mostly lower Wednesday Dec. 17, 2014 as oil prices tumbled again while investors waited for a U.S. Federal Reserve statement on monetary policy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)Asian stock markets powered higher Thursday, sweeping aside worries about a flagging global economy after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would remain "patient" in its approach to raising interest rates.


Anti-Castro activists Osvaldo Hernandez, right, and Miguel Saavedra, second from right, chant anti-Obama slogans in the Little Havana area of Miami, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Hernandez and Saavedra express their disagreement with a surprise move announced by senior Obama administration officials that could pave the way for a major shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island nation. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)MIAMI (AP) — When Cuban and American leaders announced they would restore diplomatic relations after a standoff lasting more than a half-century, all eyes in the U.S. immediately turned to Miami, where many expected the country's largest population of Cuban exiles to pour angrily into the streets.


This undated photo provided by A Ticket Forward shows Elizabeth Quinn Gallagher. Jordan Axani, the Toronto man who made headlines in November 2014 by offering a free round-the-world air ticket to a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend has found Ms. Right: Gallagher. (AP Photo/Courtesy A Ticket Forward)TORONTO (AP) — A Toronto man who made headlines last month by offering a free round-the-world air ticket to a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend has found Ms. Right.


FILE - This file photo released Friday, April 19, 2013 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, charged with carrying out the April 2013 attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. Tsarnaev is scheduled to be in federal court in Boston Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, for the final hearing before his trial begins in January. He could face the death penalty if convicted. (AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)BOSTON (AP) — Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has not been seen in public since he was arraigned on 30 federal charges in July 2013, when he still bore signs of the bloody standoff with police that led to his capture and the death of his older brother, Tamerlan.


BEIJING (Reuters) - The former police chief of a major city in northern China has been charged with corruption, state media said on Thursday, after he was sacked for allowing his drunk son to be set free, despite having attacked a policeman. Li Yali was the top police officer in Taiyuan, which lies about 500 km (300 miles) southwest of Beijing, until last year, when footage of his son's drunken violence went viral on the Internet. His son, Li Zhengyuan, was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence in October 2012 and was found to be drunk at the wheel. ...

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, Seth Rogen, center, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, arriving in North Korea to a welcoming crowd in a scene from Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Ed Araquel)WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators have now connected the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. to North Korea, a U.S. official said, though it remained unclear how the federal government would respond to a break-in that exposed sensitive documents and ultimately led to terrorist threats against moviegoers.


People come to lay flowers to pay respect to the shooting victims at a temporary memorial site close to the Lindt cafe in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The siege ended early Tuesday with a barrage of gunfire that left two hostages and the Iranian-born gunman dead, and a nation that has long prided itself on its peace rocked to its core. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)SYDNEY (AP) — Australia's prime minister said Thursday that a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe may have been preventable, as the chorus of critics demanding to know why the gunman was out on bail despite facing a string of violent charges grew louder.


By Ross Kerber and Hilary Russ (Reuters) - A "green" bond market has taken root this year, with municipalities and corporations issuing new environmentally-focused bonds and money managers jumping in to buy them. But it's too soon to tell whether all the new activity - less than a sliver of the $91 trillion worldwide bond market - will send much new money to projects like efficient buildings and better water systems. Instead, the new bonds reflect the complexities of using finance to address issues like climate change. ...

In this photo taken on Nov. 7, 2014, men talk with the Qatar skyline in the background, in Doha, Qatar. Construction work in underway at a rapid rate as the country prepares to host the Middle East’s first World Cup in 2022. (AP Photo/Rob Harris)DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Men crammed together, dozens to a room, on bunk beds so close they can reach over and shake hands.


In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 file photo people walk past a huge Christmas tree installed in Red Square, with St. Basil Cathedral, center, the Kremlin's Spassky Tower, right back, and Lenin Mausoleum, right, in Moscow, Russia. By all accounts, President Vladimir Putin has had a horrible year: Russia’s currency has lost more than half its value, the economy is heading toward recession and he has become a pariah in the West. And yet so far, Putin’s tough, anti-Western rhetoric and aggressive actions in neighboring Ukraine have helped him weather the storm, with a new Associated Press-NORC Center poll showing that 81 percent of Russians still support their president. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, File)MOSCOW (AP) — From a Western perspective, Vladimir Putin's days as president of Russia should be numbered: The ruble has lost more than half its value, the economy is in crisis and his aggression in Ukraine has turned the country into an international pariah.


In this Dec. 30, 2004 photo, an Acehnese man rides a motorcycle past a line of dead bodies of Sunday's deadly tsunami in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia. The tsunami that struck on Dec. 26, 2004, was one of the world’s worst natural disasters in modern times. It followed a magnitude 9.1 earthquake that ruptured the sea floor off Indonesia’s Sumatra island, displacing billions of tons of water and sending waves 10 meters (33 feet) high radiating across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds. Associated Press journalists who covered the story recall some of the most poignant images from the disaster. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)Some 230,000 people were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami set off by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004. A dozen countries were hit, from Indonesia to India to Africa's east coast. Scores of Associated Press journalists covered the disaster, and as the 10th anniversary approached, the AP asked nine of them to describe the images that have stuck with them the most. This is the second of their stories, which are being published daily through Dec. 25.


MISSOULA, Montana (AP) — A man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide in a case that attracted attention as a test of "stand your ground" laws in the U.S. that govern the use of deadly force against attackers.

Alan Gross, accompanied by his wife, Judy, speaks during a news conference at his lawyer's office in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Gross was released from Cuba after five years in a Cuban prison. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off his 2012 re-election victory, President Barack Obama summoned senior advisers to a series of meetings, asking them to "think big" about a second-term agenda, including the possibilities of new starts with long-standing U.S. foes such as Iran and Cuba. Two years later, after painstaking secret diplomacy on separate but surprisingly similar tracks, efforts with Tehran and Havana are in full swing.


WASHINGTON (AP) — The surprising move by President Barack Obama to restore U.S. ties with Cuba reignited long-simmering political passions over the fate of the island nation, reinforcing yet another flashpoint difference between Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and several Republicans eyeing bids for the White House.

Students and teachers celebrate after listening to a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, at a school in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)HAVANA (AP) — Cubans cheered the surprise announcement that their country will restore relations with the United States, hopeful they'll soon see expanded trade and new economic vibrancy even though the 53-year-old economic embargo remains in place for the time being.


A woman with a poster of the Cuban Five, that reads in Spanish "Freedom Now," celebrates their release, in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba abruptly moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations. The announcement was accompanied by a quiet exchange of imprisoned spies and the celebratory release of American Alan Gross, a government contract worker who had been held in Cuba for 5 years and the U.S. freed the three remaining members of the Cuban Five who were jailed in Florida. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)WASHINGTON (AP) — Opponents of President Barack Obama's sudden move to re-establish ties with Cuba have little chance of scuttling his effort in Congress.


The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research Poll of Russia was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago with fieldwork by GfK Russia from Nov. 22-Dec. 7. It is based on a nationally representative random sample of 2,008 Russians age 18 and older.

Cuban students march in Havana, on December 17, 2014, to celebrate after Washington released three Cuban spies, as the US and Cuba brought their bitter Cold War stand-off towards a historic closeThe United States and Cuba moved to end five decades of Cold War hostility Wednesday, agreeing to revive diplomatic ties in a breakthrough that would also ease a crippling US trade embargo. In the wake of a prisoner exchange, President Barack Obama said Washington was ready for a "new chapter" in relations with communist Cuba and would re-establish its embassy in Havana, shuttered since 1961. "We are all Americans," Obama declared, breaking into Spanish for a speech that the White House portrayed as a bid to reassert US leadership in the Western Hemisphere.


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