World briefs: Obama plans to meet pope

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican as part of a European trip scheduled for March.

The White House says Mr. Obama "looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality" during their March 27 meeting.

Mr. Obama also plans to meet in Rome with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Gunmen free 57 Afghans

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A group of 57 civilians, responsible for clearing the land of old explosives and mines, was released on Tuesday just hours after being after captured by unknown gunmen in western Afghanistan, officials said.

All the men worked for the British-based HALO trust, which specializes in removing hazardous mines and other ordinance left over from wars.

Emergency rule declared

BANGKOK -- The embattled government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared the imposition of emergency rule in Bangkok and surrounding areas on Tuesday, suggesting a more aggressive posture toward anti-government protesters who have occupied parts of the city during the past two months and are seeking to overthrow the government.

The emergency decree enacted Tuesday gives the government the power to invoke curfews, censor the news media, disperse gatherings and use military force to "secure order."

Protests snarl New Delhi

NEW DELHI -- The heart of India's capital city was gridlocked Tuesday, with police and protesters clashing during the second day of a standoff between police and the city's chief minister.

Activist Arvind Kejriwal swept to power on a wave of anticorruption sentiment just over three weeks ago, but Tuesday he was back on the streets, leading a protest against alleged police misconduct that roiled the city core.

Snowden seeks protection

MOSCOW -- Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. contractor living in Russia under temporary asylum, is appealing to the local government for protection after receiving threats against his life, his lawyer in Moscow said.

Anatoly Kucherena, who has represented Mr. Snowden's interests in Russia since he sought refuge last July after leaking classified National Security Agency documents, pointed to reports on Buzzfeed this month that contained threats made by unidentified U.S. officials.

Pussy Riot to visit U.S.

HONG KONG -- Two members of the Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot, released from prison in December under an amnesty by President Vladimir Putin, will widen their campaign for better prison conditions with a visit to the U.S. next month.

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will travel to New York on Feb. 4, they said in a Jan. 20 interview in Singapore, during their first trip abroad since walking free Dec. 23.

Serbia seeks entry into EU

BRUSSELS -- The European Union began entry talks with Serbia, demanding the country at the center of the continent's bloodiest conflicts since World War II mend ties with Kosovo and improve norms on justice and civil liberties.

The Balkan state of 7.2 million people wants to be the third former Yugoslav republic in the 28-member EU and hopes to join the EU by 2020.


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