COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Pope Francis departs for the Philippines, Asia's most populous Catholic nation, where ecstatic crowds await the first papal visit in 20 years. The government has declared national holidays during the pope's visit, which runs through Monday. He will be in the bustling capital of Manila and fly over the weekend to eastern Leyte province, where he plans to meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated entire villages in 2013. SENT: 540 words, photos.
MANILA, Philippines -- The last pope to visit the Philippines was the target of militants whose plot was uncovered days before his arrival. The one before that was wounded by an attacker who posed as a priest to get close to him. And now Pope Francis, a man with a penchant for breaking out of security cordons to meet ecstatic crowds, is giving Philippine authorities daunting security challenges beginning with his arrival Thursday and topped by an outdoor Mass on Sunday that could draw a record 6 million people. By Jim Gomez. SENT: 680 words, photos.
-- POPE WATCH -- Glimpses of the pope's trip. SENT: 820 words, photos.
PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia -- Indonesian navy divers plunge into the sea at dawn to examine a large chunk of the AirAsia jet's fuselage, aiming to bring bodies believed to be trapped inside to the surface. SENT: 260 words, photos.
TOKYO -- If you are troubled, lost in life or just feel like discussing cats and Japanese baseball, visit "Mr. Murakami's Place" online. Starting Thursday, author Haruki Murakami will be taking questions and responding as best as he can for the next two weeks. A best-selling novelist and perennial candidate for a Nobel Prize in literature, Murakami is notoriously publicity-shy. But he wants some virtual interaction with his readers, says his publisher Shinchosha. By Mari Yamaguchi. SENT, photos.
SYDNEY -- Beaches at the Australian city of Newcastle were closed for a sixth day because of a 5-meter (16-foot) great white shark that is lurking in coastal waters. The shark was first spotted on Saturday off Merewether Beach and was last seen off Nobbys Beach on Wednesday afternoon, Newcastle City Council Aquatic Services Coordinator Peter Withers said. SENT: 230 words.
NEW DELHI -- An acclaimed Tamil-language novelist from south India has announced he's quitting following protests by right-wing Hindu and caste groups over his book. SENT, 120 words.
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's central bank cut its forecasts for economic growth this year, citing a weaker-than-expected fourth quarter. Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol said Asia's fourth-largest economy will expand 3.4 percent in 2015, not 3.9 percent the central bank predicted in October. By Youkyung Lee. SENT.
BEIJING -- Regulators are promising changes in China's taxi industry following strikes by drivers in at least seven major cities over complaints about low pay, high charges imposed by taxi companies and competition from ride-hailing apps. The government-run China News Service on Thursday cited experts who said taxi companies, many of them monopolies, were hurting drivers by charging fees of up to 9,000 yuan ($1,450) per month for use of a cab. The report appeared on websites of numerous Chinese news outlets. SENT: 400 words.
US & INTERNATIONAL
PARIS -- Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket, rented a small suburban house the week before and filled it with an impressive arsenal of late-model weapons, police say. A published report suggests a possible fourth attacker has been identified as investigators follow the money and supply systems for the three known killers, all of whom died in police raids. By John-Thor Dahlburg. SENT, photos.
PARIS -- Readers empty newsstands of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo since the massacre at the satirical newspaper's office by Islamic extremists, and French justice officials cracked down on anyone glorifying terrorism or making racist or anti-Semitic remarks. By Elaine Ganley and Jamey Keaten. SENT: 1,100 words, photos.
-- PICTURING THE PROPHET -- At the root of the massacre at the office of a satirical French magazine -- cast as revenge for caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad -- is a ban on such images that is not mentioned in the Quran. SENT: 500 words, photos.
-- CHARLIE HEBDO-WORLD REACTION -- New Charlie Hebdo edition reaches global audience, dismays Muslims. SENT: 1,200 words, photos.
TEHRAN, Iran -- A Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for months has been indicted and will stand trial, Iran's state news agency reports, without elaborating on what charges he faced. The report came the same day as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif before talks with world powers resume over the Islamic Republic's contested nuclear program. By Ali Akbar Dareini. SENT: 620 words, photo.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California -- A pair of Americans completed what had long been considered the world's most difficult rock climb Wednesday, using only their hands and feet to scale a 3,000-foot (900-meter) vertical wall on El Capitan, the forbidding granite pedestal in Yosemite National Park that has beckoned adventurers for more than half a century.
NIGERIA-A PERSISTENT WAR
Boko Haram, Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremist group, is increasing the ferocity and tempo of its attacks, destabilizing Africa's most populous nation as it prepares for elections. By Michelle Faul. SENT: 815 words, photos.
WASHINGTON & POLITICS
WASHINGTON -- Shunning a White House veto threat and opposition within their own party, House Republicans approve legislation to overturn President Barack Obama's key immigration policies and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion from the U.S. By Erica Werner. SENT:780 words, photos.
ISLAMIC STATE-LOSING KOBANI
BEIRUT -- With more than a thousand militants killed and territory slipping away, the Islamic State group is losing its grip on the Syrian border town of Kobani under intense U.S.-led airstrikes and astonishingly stiff resistance by Kurdish fighters. It is a stunning reversal for the Islamic State group, which just months ago stood poised to conquer the town, and could pierce an aura of invincibility that helped attract foreign fighters and spread horror across the Middle East. By Bassem Mroue. SENT: 930 words, photos.
DONETSK, Ukraine -- Valentina Dudareva's voice cracks with despair as she stands in the snow, surveying the bombed-out windows of her apartment block in Donetsk, the separatist capital in east Ukraine. Cold, poor and hungry, Dudareva is among the masses of people trapped by fighting between the government and Russian-backed militias reliant on outside help that often fails to arrive. By Mstyslav and Peter Leonard. SENT: 780 words, photos.
Unless David Fincher's "Gone Girl" or Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" unexpectedly crash the party, the most certain thing absent at Thursday's Oscar nominations will be major box-office hits. When the nominations to the 87th annual Academy Awards are unveiled at 8:30 a.m. EST from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, none of the expected best-picture candidates will have grossed $100 million. Presenters Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron and motion picture academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs will announce all 24 categories in a press conference streamed live on www.oscars.org and broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America." By Jake Coyle. SENT, photos.
ALSO GETTING ATTENTION
-- SECRET SERVICE -- AP source says 4 top executives at Secret Service reassigned amid shakeup in agency leadership. SENT: 130 words. Will be updated.
-- BILL COSBY -- Model who claims Bill Cosby drugged her meets with Los Angeles police detectives. SENT: 430 words, photo.
-- GENERAL MOTORS-SALES -- GM sells company record of 9.9 million cars and trucks in 2014, but falls behind Volkswagen. SENT: 115 words.
-- OBAMA-BROADBAND -- Obama says high-speed broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, as he pitches greater access. SENT: 130 words, photos. Will be updated.
-- SPACE STATION -- The astronauts are back in the American side of the International Space Station. SENT: 525 words, photos.
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