World briefs: Tragedy clouds Obama's visit

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TOKYO -- When President Barack Obama arrives in South Korea today, he will be thrust anew into the role of consoler in chief in a time of crisis.

South Korea is reeling from the ferry disaster that has left more than 300 dead or missing, with the vast majority of the victims students from a high school near the capital of Seoul.

The tragedy has consumed South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the lead-up to Mr. Obama's visit and could distract from the security and economic agenda she had been expected to highlight during her meetings with the U.S. president.

Mr. Obama departed Tokyo Thursday after failing to conclude a trade deal with Japan.

Pope's private phone calls

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- What Pope Francis may tell Catholics in private telephone conversations doesn't reflect church policy, the Vatican's spokesman said Thursday.

An unusual statement from The Rev. Federico Lombardi came after days of speculation that the pope wants to change Roman Catholic Church rules barring communion for faithful people who remarry after getting divorced.

The question arose after Pope Francis reportedly called an Argentine woman who had written to him for guidance, saying her parish priest had denied her access to the sacraments because her spouse's previous marriage had not been annulled.

Would-be jihadi fighters

LONDON -- British counter-terrorism officials made a direct appeal Thursday to mothers, wives, sisters and girlfriends as they urged British women to persuade family members not to travel to Syria to take part in that country's bloody civil war.

Authorities across Europe are increasingly concerned about the number of would-be jihadi fighters traveling to Syria to fight against President Bashar Assad's regime.

British police say the number of Syria-related arrests has jumped in 2014, with 40 in the first three months of this year, compared to 25 for all of 2013.

'Cuba Twitter'

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The Costa Rican government says it's waiting for the Obama administration to explain why it improperly devised a secret "Cuban Twitter" network from inside the Central American nation's borders despite warnings in 2009 that the plan could jeopardize the two countries' diplomatic relations.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo said it was "inappropriate" to use his country for developing the primitive social media network, known as ZunZuneo, which aimed to stir political unrest in Cuba. The network was created under the U.S. Agency for International Development, but its users were unaware it was backed by the U.S. government.

Gang leader sentenced

MEXICO CITY -- A federal judge in Texas on Thursday sentenced a Mexican gang leader to life in prison for ordering the 2010 murders of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The sentencing came two months after a jury convicted Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, 35, of ordering hit men from the Barrio Azteca street gang to carry out the killings.

In one of the slayings, Barrio Azteca gunmen laid siege to a white Toyota SUV, killing Lesley A. Enriquez, who worked at the consulate, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, an employee of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Texas. Both were U.S. citizens. The couple's infant daughter was unharmed.

-- Compiled from news services


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