By Paul Carrel, Shadia Nasralla and Tom Perry MUNICH/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia said on Saturday a Syria ceasefire plan was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took rebel ground near Aleppo and set their sights on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province. International divisions over Syria surfaced anew at a Munich conference where Russia rejected French charges that it was bombing civilians, just a day after world powers agreed on the "cessation of hostilities" due to begin in a week's time. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated accusations that Russia was hitting "legitimate opposition groups" and civilians with its bombing campaign in Syria and said Moscow must change its targets to respect the ceasefire deal.
By Philip Pullella and Gabriel Stargardter MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on Mexico's government on Saturday to fight endemic corruption and drug trafficking and he then prayed with thousands before the icon that unites the country - the Virgin of Guadalupe. Corruption is deeply ingrained in Mexico, and President Enrique Pena Nieto, his wife and finance minister have all been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals involving homes purchased from government contractors. The pope also exhorted Mexico's bishops to take a more active stand against the drug trade, which he said "devours like a metastasis." Drug-trafficking gangs have infiltrated police forces across the country and more than 100,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the last decade.
South Korea said 70 percent of the U.S. dollars paid as wages and fees for the suspended Kaesong industrial project, run jointly with the North, had been diverted for Pyongyang's weapons program and luxury goods for leader Kim Jong Un. It is the first formal acknowledgement by the South that the 55,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex saw little of the $160 they were paid on average a month. South Korea on Wednesday suspended the project as punishment for the North's long-range rocket launch on Feb. 7 saying it would no longer allow the funds paid to Kaesong to be used in the North's missile and nuclear programs.
By Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's military shelled Kurdish militia targets in northern Syria on Saturday and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded that the group withdraw from the area in a move that further complicated the conflict across the NATO member's border. The shelling took place after Kurdish YPG fighters backed by Russian bombing raids drove Syrian rebels from a former military air base, south of the town of Azaz and near the Turkish border. "Today retaliation was taken under the rules of engagement against forces that represented a threat in Azaz and the surrounding area," the prime minister told reporters in comments shown live by state broadcaster TRT Haber.
The presumed mastermind behind the murder of a Mexican journalist was arrested in the eastern state of Veracruz on Saturday, the state's governor said, as Mexico struggles with a wave of attacks on reporters. Anabel Flores, who covered the police force for regional media outlets, was violently dragged from her home in Veracruz by a group of armed men earlier this week and found dead on a highway. "Josele Marquez (alias) El Chichi is implicated, among other crimes, as (the one responsible) for the assassination of journalist Anabel Flores," Governor Javier Duarte wrote on his verified Twitter account in announcing the arrest.
The death toll at a building that collapsed from a strong earthquake in southern Taiwan reached 114 as rescue efforts came to an end on Saturday, a week after the temblor hit. "The search and rescue has come to an end," said Tainan Mayor William Lai, in remarks carried live on local television, identifying the last individual to be pulled out from the rubble as Hsieh Chen-yu, who was part of the fallen building's management committee. All of those believed missing in the building have now been accounted for, city officials said.
The army veteran is one of thousands of retired South Koreans hitting the dance floors at "Colatecs" -- special discos for the elderly that are flourishing across the country. As a result, patrons like Han Keum-Ok, a 75-year-old Kukilgwan regular for the past 10 years, keeps her hobby a secret.
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese nationalist newspaper says Americans politicians are resorting to petty actions after the Senate approved a bill to rename the plaza in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after an imprisoned Chinese political dissident. The Communist Party-controlled Global Times on Sunday called the move provocative and says it's intended to outrage Beijing, although China would not consider it a big deal. Senate Bill 2451, as proposed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, wants to rename the plaza after Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace laureate serving an 11-year sentence on the charge of inciting state subversion.
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese nationalist newspaper says Americans politicians are resorting to petty actions after the Senate approved a bill to rename the plaza in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after an imprisoned Chinese political dissident.
Pope Francis admonished Mexico's political and religious leaders to take on drug violence, calling for "true justice" and "prophetic courage" against the scourge afflicting the country. The Argentine-born pontiff used his Saturday's visit at the National Palace and the capital's cathedral to send tough messages to the country's elite on the first full day of a cross-country tour of some of Mexico's hotspots. At the palace, with President Enrique Pena Nieto by his side in a patio packed with lawmakers and government officials, Francis told them political leaders have a duty to give "true justice" and "effective security" to Mexicans.
Three-time defending champion Kei Nishikori advanced to the ATP Memphis final Saturday by beating US fourth seed Sam Querrey, setting up a title showdown with history-making teen prodigy Taylor Fritz. Top seed Nishikori rallied to beat Querrey 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 for his 16th consecutive Memphis victory over four years while Fritz, an 18-year-old American wildcard in only his third tour-level event, ousted Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Fritz fired 17 aces in becoming the youngest American in an ATP final since a 17-year-old Michael Chang won at Wembley in 1989.
Latest figures show the average London house price was Â£514,097 ($740,400, 678,500 euros) in December, up 12.4 percent in 12 months, compared to a 6.4-percent increase to Â£188,270 across England and Wales. Many "generation rent" young professionals, whose parents bought comfortable homes in their early 20s, have given up on their dream of ever affording a property in London. At University College London, more than 150 students have gone on a rent strike.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Teenager Taylor Fritz beat Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to reach the Memphis Open final, extending his amazing run by becoming the youngest American to reach a final since Michael Chang in 1989.
The quest to prevent Britain crashing out of the European Union faces its moment of truth this week, with EU chief Donald Tusk touring key capitals in a final push for a deal at a crucial Brussels summit. Many of Prime Minister David Cameron's demands for reforms ahead of a referendum on Britain's membership of the crisis-hit bloc still face opposition just days before the meeting on Thursday-Friday. Tusk cleared his diary in the run-up to the summit for last-ditch talks in Berlin, Paris, Athens and other capitals to press key leaders for an agreement despite what he called a "very fragile" situation.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Rescuers in Taiwan pulled out the remains of the final victims of last week's earthquake and with a minute of silence ended the search with the death toll of 116, most of them in a collapsed high-rise apartment building.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Pope Francis challenged Mexico's political and ecclesial elites on Saturday to provide their people with security, justice and courageous pastoral care to confront the drug-inspired violence and corruption that are wracking the country, delivering a tough-love message to Mexico's ruling classes on his first full day in the country.
Turkey hit Kurdish and Syrian regime targets on Saturday as Ankara mulled a ground assault with Saudi troops, further complicating efforts to end the war just days after the US and Russia agreed on a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week. State-run news agency Anatolia said the armed forces shelled Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) targets around the town of Azaz, and also responded to regime fire on a Turkish military guard post in Turkey's southern Hatay region. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Minnigh airbase, recently taken by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia from Islamist rebels, was hit in the Turkish shelling.
Saudi Arabia confirmed late on Saturday it sent aircraft to NATO-member Turkey's Incirlik air base for the fight against Islamic State militants. Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, adviser in the office of Saudi Arabia's minister of defense, told pan-Arab Al Arabiya television that the kingdom was committed to stepping up the fighting against Islamic State and that the move was part of those efforts. "What is present now is aircraft that are part of the Saudi Arabian forces," Assiri said in response to a question on whether ground troops were included.
Justice Antonin Scalia, a towering conservative voice on the US Supreme Court, has died at the age of 79, setting up a political showdown over his succession in the run-up to the presidential election. The flag outside the Supreme Court was lowered to half-staff in tribute to Scalia, who died in his sleep at a private residence in the Big Bend area of West Texas, according to the US Marshals Service. President Barack Obama led tributes for the court's longest-serving justice, who was first appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A magnitude-5.8 earthquake shook the New Zealand city of Christchurch on Sunday but there were no immediate reports of serious damage, nearly five years after a deadly, more powerful quake destroyed much of the city center.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Australia tightened its grip on the first test Sunday when it captured the wicket of Martin Guptill for 45 to send New Zealand to tea on the third day at 106-1, still trailing by 273 runs.
Voters in the Central African Republic return to the polls Sunday to cast their ballots in a presidential run-off they hope will help usher in a new era of peace and stability after years of sectarian bloodshed. The two candidates vying for the presidency are both former prime ministers who have campaigned on promises to restore security and boost the economy in the mineral-rich but deeply impoverished country. The first round on December 30 was won by ex-premier Anicet Georges Dologuele, a 58-year-old former central banker known as "Mr Clean" for his attempts to bring transparency to murky public finances when in office.
Warren Gatland insists Wales remain in contention for the Six Nations title despite a scrappy 27-23 victory over Scotland in Cardiff. Jamie Roberts and George North scored second-half tries as Wales came from behind to win at the Principality Stadium. Wales next face France, also unbeaten after two games, in Cardiff in two weeks and Gatland upped the stakes by admitting their Championship hopes were on the line.
What had looked to be a strong start to the post-Melbourne season began deteriorating last week as the pullouts due to various aliments and injuries mounted prior to Monday's first day at the Aviation Club. In addition to world number one Williams and Germany's Kerber, other absentees include 2012 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, Russian star Maria Sharapova and 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki.
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch Sunday, seismologists said, sending goods flying off shelves. Jenny Krex, the manager of a coffee shop in the seaside suburb of Sumner, told the New Zealand Herald that items broke in her shop. The quake struck a week before the fifth anniversary of a deadly 6.3-tremor in Christchurch, which killed 185 in one of New Zealand's deadliest disasters.
Phil Mickelson was poised to strike for a record-tying fifth Pebble Beach Pro Am crown after seizing a two-shot lead with a third-round 66. Mickelson's six-under effort on the par-72 Pebble Beach Golf Links -- one of three courses in use over the first three rounds of the US PGA Tour event -- gave him a 54-hole total of 16-under 199. "It's fun to just have a chance going into Sunday," said Mickelson, the five-time major winner who hasn't won a US tour title since lifting the 2013 British Open trophy.
The United States has recovered a missile that was accidentally sent to Cuba in 2014 after a logistical mixup in Europe, bringing an end to an unusual and sensitive episode in the world of defense. The dummy training version of a US Hellfire missile was returned to the US with the "cooperation of the Cuban government," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Saturday, declining to provide specifics. Washington has treated the matter as a logistical mixup, although the US Justice Department is investigating.
Celtic manager Ronny Deila believes his side are back on track after they defeated Ross County 2-0 to move three points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership on Saturday. The Hoops suffered a slump at the beginning of the month as their dreams of a domestic treble were ended by a 3-1 League Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County. "It's a good start and I'm very happy to get the three points," said Deila, whose side triumphed thanks to goals from Leigh Griffiths and Dedryck Boyata.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz take the stage with mainstream Republican candidates desperate to knock them off their perch in Saturday night's Republican presidential debate, where fireworks are expected ahead of South Carolina's primary. With the first two nomination contests in Iowa and New Hampshire under their collective belt, the candidates vying to be their party's standardbearer are blanketing the so-called Palmetto State known for its bare-knuckle politics. The state holds its Republican primary on February 20, the same day Democrats vote in Nevada for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
LA QUINTA, Calif. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has been informed about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and expressed condolences to the conservative jurist's family, the White House said on Saturday. "The president and first lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia’s family," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "We’ll have additional reaction from the president later today." Obama is in California on a golf vacation ahead of a summit with Asian countries next week. (Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Diane Craft)
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday that the next U.S. president should be the one to nominate a justice to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the death of Antonin Scalia. "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Rising star Dominic Thiem of Austria has knocked former top-ranked Rafael Nadal out of the Argentina Open with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4) victory over the defending champion on Saturday.
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals to lead Real Madrid to a 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, provisionally lifting it into second place, while Gary Neville finally got his first Spanish league victory in charge of Valencia.