World briefs: Thai general buoys regime

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BANGKOK -- The head of Thailand's army, one of the most powerful institutions in the country, appeared to distance himself from the goals of anti-government protesters in a nationally televised speech on Monday that analysts said was a signal to the Thai public.

After months of assiduously seeking to remain neutral in Thailand's three-month power struggle, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief, repeatedly called for adherence to the Thai Constitution.

Protesters who control a number of major intersections in Bangkok are seeking to oust the Thai government. Violence escalated over the weekend, with attacks on protest sites by unidentified gunmen that left four people dead, including three children.

Overhaul at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis on Monday announced the first major overhaul of the Vatican's outdated and inefficient bureaucracy in a quarter-century, creating an economics secretariat to control all economic, administrative, personnel and procurement functions of the Holy See.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis' core eight cardinal advisers and a sharp critic of current Vatican governance, was named prefect of the new office. He reports to a new 15-member economy council made up of eight cardinals reflecting various parts of the world and seven lay experts.

China acts against smog

BEIJING -- China's capital region remained swathed Monday in a cloud of choking smog, prompting a rise in hospital visits and sales of indoor air purifiers and reports of rare industry shutdowns.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection on Sunday dispatched inspection teams to fine and shut down polluting industries in the region, and there were reports that regulators had idled a major concrete kiln and other factories outside Beijing. But the shutdowns did little to end a four-day bout of heavy particulate smog.

What's after Guzman?

CULIACAN, Mexico -- Almost as soon as Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, reputedly the head of one of the world's largest crime syndicates, was captured after a 13-year manhunt, young drug dealers began campaigns to take his place -- a sign that the group, responsible for 25 percent of all illegal drugs smuggled into the United States, might not be headless for long.

But even as the internal jockeying intensified, experts predicted that the arrest of the legendary crime boss over the weekend would prove to be a watershed event likely to usher in the breakup of Mexico's huge crime syndicates.

Also in the world ...

A public outpouring of grief mixed with patriotic anger whipped through Afghanistan on Monday in the aftermath of the killings of 21 Afghan soldiers by Taliban insurgents in Kunar province. ... Chinese ships used water cannons to drive Filipino fishermen from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea on Jan. 27, the Philippine military said Monday, escalating tensions at the site of a maritime standoff two years ago.

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