World News: Venezuela Protests Increase; Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan Updates; Chinese Children Drown Skating on River

By: ap
By: ap
Opposition, pro-govt rallies grip Venezuela... Rival protests clash in Brazil

Many natives of Venezuela living in the United States are showing growing concern for the escalating protests unfolding in Venezuela. Here, this woman holds a sign stating, "Pray for Venezuela".

(AP) -- Venezuelans on both sides of the nation's political divide are taking to the streets after nearly two weeks of mass protests that have President Nicolas Maduro scrambling to reassert his leadership.
In Caracas, tens of thousands of government opponents filled several city blocks Saturday in their biggest rally so far against Maduro's 10-month-old government. Across town, a mostly female crowd gathered in red T-shirts and matching baseball caps representing the color of Maduro's Socialist party.
The protests follow a weeklong crackdown on the opposition that saw the jailing of hardline leader Leopoldo Lopez and the arrests of dozens of activists. Opposition leaders are calling on Maduro to either resolve problems such as rising crime and galloping inflation or step aside.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Protesters urging investments in basic sanitation services in Brazil's largest "favela" hillside slum have faced off with a rival group of slum dwellers, some waving flags of the governing Workers Party.
The confrontation took place Saturday in Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha slum, where activists from the pro-sanitation organization Meu Rio were holding a small demonstration.
An opposing crowd of Rocinha residents, some with Workers Party flags, descended on the protest and voiced support for government plans to build a cable car in the community. Meu Rio opposes the cable car, saying the money should be used for sewage treatment in the slum.
Meu Rio aims to draw attention to the Olympic city's massive sewage problem. Only 30 percent of Rio's sewage is treated. The rest flows raw into its waterways.

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian activists say Kurdish fighters have captured a northeastern town near the Iraqi border after days of combat with members of an al-Qaida breakaway group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Syria-based activist who identified himself as Salar al-Kurdi say members of the so-called People's Protection Units captured Tel Brak on Saturday.
It was the latest gain by Kurds in almost a year of fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The units are dominated by members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, Syria's most powerful Kurdish group.
Since mid-2013, Kurdish fighters have been on the offensive capturing wide areas in northeastern Syria from the Islamic State.
The Tel Brak battle left some 19 people dead, the Observatory said.

Syrian troops advance near Golan Heights city
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian state TV says government forces have captured two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The report, citing a military official, says troops and pro-government gunmen captured Saturday the areas of Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of the town of Quneitra. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights confirmed troops were on the offensive, adding that the air force was taking part in the attack.
The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quneitra as part of efforts to drive rebels from the area, which is near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, since the opposition named a news military chief on Monday.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir hails from southern Syria and was an army commander in Quneitra until 2012, when he defected to the opposition.

UN demands humanitarian aid for all of Syria
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council is unanimously demanding immediate access everywhere in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of people in desperate need.
Russia and China, strong supporters of the Syrian government, joined the rest of the council Saturday in sending a strong message to President Bashar Assad's government that civilians caught in the three-year conflict must be helped.
The resolution doesn't threaten sanctions but it does express the council's intention to take "further steps" if the resolution isn't implemented.

Iraqi authorities distribute cards for elections
BAGHDAD (AP) -- A spokesman for Iraq's election commission says authorities have begun to distribute voter ID cards in all but one of the country's 18 provinces, preparing for an April election that will be the first since the 2011 withdrawal of the U.S. forces.
Aziz al-Kheikani said Saturday that distribution began in four new provinces including the capital Baghdad. Voters in 13 provinces began to receive cards, which contain a computer chip, three weeks ago.
He said authorities will decide soon on how to distribute cards in the western province of Anbar.
Iraq's Sunni insurgency is at its strongest in Anbar. Militants have taken control of the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital Ramadi.
The parliamentary election is scheduled for April 30.

Militants kill at least 9 troops in eastern Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Officials in Iraq say militants have attacked an army patrol in the country's east, killing at least nine troops.
A police officer says two bombs targeted a four-vehicle patrol Saturday in the town of al-Saadiyah, 140 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad. He says militants opened fire on the troops after the bombing.
The police officer says four military officers and five soldiers were killed, while four soldiers were wounded.
Also Saturday, another police officer says three car bombs exploded in the city of Tikrit, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad. The officer says the blasts near the homes of local security and civilian officials killed five people and wounded 18.
Two medical officials confirmed figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information to journalists

ISTANBUL (AP) -- Police in Istanbul have clashed with hundreds of protesters denouncing a new law that increases government controls over the Internet.
Riot police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber pellets to push back crowds trying to reach Taksim Square on Saturday. Some protesters hurled fireworks at police. At least five people were detained.
This week, President Abdullah Gul ignored calls for a veto and signed the Internet bill into law, saying he had received government assurances that two disputed articles of the legislation would be amended.
The legislation allows Turkish authorities to block web pages for privacy violations without a prior court decision. It also forces Internet providers to keep records of users' activity for two years and make them available to authorities.
The European Union has criticized the legislation.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council says it held meetings with a breakaway faction of senior Taliban leaders in the United Arab Emirates.
The Dubai meetings are the first, fresh Afghan-initiated efforts to restart peace talks aimed at bringing a negotiated end to the conflict ahead of the final withdrawal of international combat troops due at the end of this year.
The Taliban has denied links to the faction, organized by former Taliban finance minister Aga Jan Mohtism.
The High Peace Council said in a statement Saturday that the delegation it met with clearly had indicated they were ready for peace talks and that both sides agreed on the need for further dialogue -- both inside and outside of Afghanistan.

Officials: Pakistan helicopters kill 9 militants
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Security officials say Pakistani helicopter gunships have carried out strikes against a militant training facility in the country's northwest, killing nine insurgents.
The officials say the military launched the attack Saturday after confirming reports about the presence of militants at a compound in the village of Thal in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provice.
They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
It was the third such strike in recent days.
On Wednesday and Thursday, officials said, Pakistani aircraft killed 20 suspected militants in the country's troubled North Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions.
The strikes follow a breakdown in negotiations between the government and the Pakistan Taliban earlier this week.

BEIJING (AP) -- A local government in northern China says six children have drowned while skating on a river.
The children aged 5 to 11 were skating together Saturday afternoon near a village in Pingyao county in Shanxi province.
After residents alerted police, rescuers were sent to the scene. About an hour later, they pulled four bodies. It took another 1 1/2 hour to find the bodies of the remaining two children.
The county government statement says an investigation is ongoing. Calls to the authority and police rang unanswered Sunday.

ROME (AP) -- Italian railway police say a college student from New Hampshire who was missing for two days in Rome was hit by a train.
Police didn't release the identity of the student whose body was found in a rail tunnel Thursday. But Trinity College Rome Campus officials said Saturday the student was Bates College junior John Durkin. The 21-year-old from Rye, N.H., was in a study abroad program.
Durkin had last been seen around 2:30 a.m. Thursday in Campo de' Fiori, a historic square lined with pubs popular with students. Police said someone aboard a passing train spotted the body a few hours later in the tunnel under a large park between stations near the Vatican and the Trastevere neighborhood.
Railway police said the case was under investigation.

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