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World News: 2 Volcanoes Erupt; Diver Dies; Amanda Knox; Afghan Elections: Unrest, Violence in Africa, Middle East Continue

By: ap
By: ap
Volcanoes in Ecuador and Indonesia erupting... Sochi Olympics prepare security... Ukraine unrest... Diver dies working on Costa Concordia... Latest on Amanda Knox Italy verdict... Afghan presidential elections near... Egypt, Libya updates;   C. Africa, Nigeria, Yemen news... Lebanon, Iraq, Syria updates...

Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador

ECUADOR-VOLCANO
Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano shoots ash and lava
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Ecuador's Geophysics Institute is reporting that the Tungurahua volcano has erupted three times, spewing ash and lava in what it called an important increase in activity.
The institute said that two moderate explosions on Saturday were followed by a third of greater size, and pyroclastic flow stretched 500 meters down its flank. The blasts created a 5-mile (8-kilometer) column of ash above the volcano, which is located 84 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Quito.
Authorities said the lava reached the lower part of a ravine called Achupashal, blocking a route to a tourist site called Banos.
Tungurahua is 16,480 feet (5,023 meters) high and has been active since 1999. An outburst in 2006 left four dead and two missing.

Indonesia volcano erupts again; kills at least 11
MOUNT SINABUNG, Indonesia (AP) -- A volcano in western Indonesia has unleashed fresh clouds of searing gas, killing at least 11 people and injuring three others.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho says several eruptions of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province on Saturday sent lava and pyroclastic flows down the southern slopes up to 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) away.
He says the volcano is still spitting clouds of gas and lava as high as 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), and the number of dead could rise as the rescue efforts are hampered by darkness.
Authorities on Friday allowed nearly 14,000 villagers to return home after they fled following previous eruptions.

Russian PM urges for plans for Sochi venues
SOCHI, Russia (AP) -- Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has urged his government to come up with a plan for the post-Olympic use of Sochi venues.
The Winter Games open in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Feb.7 and run through Feb. 23. Russia has spent about $51 billion on the Games, making them the most expensive in Olympic history.
Medvedev issued an order published on the government's website, urging the government to present proposals for the post-Olympic use of the venues by the end of the month.
There are five arenas in the Olympic park and two for ice-hockey in this subtropical town. Sochi does not have a history of winter sports and is most known for tennis players including Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Maria Sharapova.

Russia slams Western support for Ukraine oppn
MUNICH (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister has slammed Western support of Ukraine's opposition, suggesting it's leading to the escalation of violence.
Ukraine has faced two months of major protests that started after President Victor Yanukovych backed off an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of Russia.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Saturday told a gathering of the world's top diplomats and defense officials: "we have seen excessive use of force from the security forces in Ukraine."
But Russia's Sergey Lavrov says the West is inciting "increasingly violent" protests.
"Why don't we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?" Lavrov said.
"Why are so many prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions?"

Report: Diver killed working on Concordia in Italy
ROME (AP) -- A diver has died while working on the shipwrecked Costa Concordia in Italy.
The consortium of firms working to prepare the Concordia for removal says the Spanish diver died Saturday while working underwater in the area around the wreckage site. In a statement carried by the ANSA news agency, the Titan Micoperi consortium said the cause was under investigation.
Salvage crews are working to affix huge tanks onto sides of the Concordia to float it off its false seabed and tow it to a port for eventual dismantling. The timetable calls for removal in June.
Thirty two passengers and crew died when the Concordia slammed into a reef off Tuscany and capsized Jan. 13, 2012.
The Concordia was righted in preparation for removal during a remarkable engineering feat last fall.

Knox's judge explains guilty verdict
ROME (AP) -- The judge who presided over Amanda Knox's second murder conviction says he suffered over the verdict but that he and the jury agreed about her guilt in the death of British student Meredith Kercher.
Judge Alessandro Nencini said he agreed to be interviewed by Corriere della Sera for Saturday's editions because he knew the sentence would create a media storm.
Nencini says the jury had come up with a motive that would be explained in the written explanation of the verdict, expected within three months. But he hinted at the conclusion, saying that up until 8:15 p.m. on the night of the murder, Knox and her now ex-boyfriend had other plans but that something changed.
He told Corriere: "If Amanda had gone to work, probably we wouldn't be here."

Knox's ex-boyfriend: never intended to flee
ROME (AP) -- The ex-boyfriend of Amanda Knox says he wasn't fleeing Italy when he drove to Austria while an appeals court deliberated his fate in the death of a British student.
In an interview with U.S. broadcaster NBC News broadcast Friday, Raffaele Sollecito said he had been planning to take a trip outside Italy if acquitted, and turned back from Austria as soon as he learned he had been convicted a second time for the 2007 slaying of Meredith Kercher.
He said he checked into the first hotel once back in Italy because he was tired. Police found him there Friday morning, and confiscated his passport and ID papers, as called for by the court.
Sollecito told NBC: "I didn't want to flee, or to get away because I actually went back."

Afghanistan's presidential campaign begins Sunday
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Campaign season for Afghanistan's presidential election kicks off tomorrow.
The stakes are high for the 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai and oversee the final chapter in a NATO-led combat mission. The outcome of the April 5 election is seen as make-or-break for the country's future after nearly 13 years of war.
A key issue is a security agreement that could allow some 10,000 U.S. troops and 6,000 troops from allied nations to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. U.S. and NATO officials have been pressing Karzai to sign the deal, but he has refused, saying it must wait until after the election.
Western officials say all the candidates are in favor of the security agreement, but so far only one has said so publicly: Adullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister was the runner-up to Karzai in the 2009 elections.
Today, two members of his campaign were shot and killed as they left their office in the western province of Heart.

4 Afghan soldiers killed in ambush
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An Afghan official says an insurgent ambush has killed four soldiers in the country's western Farah province.
Farah provincial spokesman Fawad Askari said another four were wounded Saturday when an Afghan National Army foot patrol came under attack along the region's main highway.
Insurgents frequently launch attacks on and around the highway, which is a main trade route through the province.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The Taliban have escalated attacks in recent months as they try to take advantage of the withdrawal of foreign troops, who handed over security for the country to Afghan forces two months ago.

NATO leaders say Afghan troops need more training
MUNICH (AP) -- NATO's top leaders say Afghan security forces need further training and that makes it critical for a new agreement to be signed that allows international forces to remain after the end of this year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign the security agreement, saying he wants to wait until after the country elects his successor in April. If the agreement isn't signed, all international troops could leave by the end of 2014.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's military commander, and the alliance's civilian leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Saturday that Afghan forces needed continued training.
Fogh Rasmussen also says that without foreign troops, international funding could dry up -- making it difficult for Afghanistan to pay its forces.

Trial of Egypt's ousted leader resumes
CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's official news agency says the trial of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and 14 others, all accused of inciting the killing of protesters in 2012, has resumed.
The agency's report gave no details on Saturday's proceedings, held in a makeshift courtroom in the national police academy in eastern Cairo.
The trial is one of four the Islamist Morsi and top leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood face. The charges they face mostly carry the death penalty.
Morsi was ousted by a popularly backed military coup on July 3.
The charges against the defendants stem from violence outside the presidential palace in December 2012 when his supporters attacked protesters staging a sit-in. The clashes killed at least 10 people. The defendants are charged with inciting the killing of three of those protesters.

New Egyptian jihadi group forms, claims attacks
CAIRO (AP) -- A new Egyptian militant jihadi group has issued its first statement, claiming responsibility for planting explosives and attacking security men and police stations.
In a statement posted on a militant website late Friday, Ajnad Misr, or Egypt's Soldiers, said it will fight the "regime's criminal organs," which it said were being used to humiliate the people and prevent them from performing religious duties.
It said it planted and detonated two explosive devices on a main highway on Cairo's outskirts Friday. Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said it hit a vehicle carrying riot police and wounding an officer.
Earlier this week, militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis confirmed that Ajnad Misr was responsible for the Jan. 24 bomb attack that targeted Cairo's Talbiya police station, which police said caused no casualties.

Libyan PM visits Egypt following kidnapping crisis
CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian officials say that Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan has visited Cairo amid tensions between the two countries after Libyan militants kidnapped five Egyptian diplomats over a week ago.
In a statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Saturday, presidency spokesman Ehab Badawi says Zidan reassured Egyptian President Adly Mansour that the hostages, who were released Monday, will be returned safely to Egypt soon.
Unidentified gunmen seized five Egyptian diplomats and embassy employees late Jan. 24 and 25 in Tripoli.
The abduction came hours after Libya's state news agency reported the arrest of a Libyan militia commander, Shaaban Hadiya, in Egypt. Hadiya was at the top Revolutionaries Operation Room, and is blamed for the abduction of Zidan last year.

C. African Republic town retaken by peacekeepers
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- African peacekeepers trying to stabilize Central African Republic say they are in control of a town where hundreds of heavily armed rebels have massed not far from the capital.
Brig. Gen. Martin Tumenta Chomou said Saturday that the regional peacekeeping force has secured the town of Sibut, located 110 miles (180 kilometers) from the volatile capital.
The arrival of the rebels in Sibut mid-week had raised alarm about their intentions amid fears they could use the town as a base to stage another coup in Bangui, the capital.
Most of the rebels are Muslims from the distant north who overthrew the government last March and later were accused of scores of atrocities against the Christian majority in the capital.
Revenge killings continue as a new interim government is being installed.

Suspected extremists kill pastor in NE Nigeria
YOLA, Nigeria (AP) -- A local leader says gunmen ransacked a mainly Christian village in Nigeria's northeast, killing the pastor before being repelled by vigilantes.
Madagali council chairman Maina Ularamu said Saturday the suspected Islamic militants also tried to burn down the village of Sabon Garin Yamdula during Friday's attack, but vigilante youths firing guns set them to flight and soldiers later deployed. He said the pastor was rushed to the hospital but died.
He could not confirm other casualties.
In a separate attack, police reported that a bus Friday set off an improved explosive device on the highway through nearby Kuthra village, killing seven passengers.
Thousands have been killed during a 4-year-old uprising by extremists who want Shariah law imposed across Africa's biggest oil producer, which is divided equally between Christians and Muslims.

Officials: Sunni-Shiite fighting kills 65 in Yemen
SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Security and tribal officials say a battle between Shiite and Sunni tribesman over land in northwest Yemen has left more than 65 dead.
The officials say the battle, which raged all Friday and into Saturday, was between Shiite Hawthis and members of the Sunni Hashid tribe, and was over mutually desired territory in the province of Amran, north of Sanaa.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said violence escalated after Hashid tribesman asked for reinforcements from Sunni ultraconservatives, who sent over 700 men.
Land disputes are common between the Hawthi group and the tribesman. Tensions have long existed between Salafi Islamists, who are Sunni Muslims, and former Hawthi rebels, who are Shiite Muslims.

Report: Blast in Lebanese Shiite town
BEIRUT (AP) -- Lebanon's state media says an explosion has been heard near a school in a Shiite-dominated town in the northeast of the country.
It did not give a cause or mention casualties for the late Saturday blast in Hermel.
Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiite parts of Lebanon in retaliation for the Shiite Hezbollah group sending its fighters into Syria's civil war.

UN says more than 733 Iraqis killed in January
BAGHDAD (AP) -- The United Nations says at least 733 Iraqis have died during violence in January, excluding casualties from an embattled western province.
The figures issued Saturday by the U.N.'s mission to Iraq show 618 civilians and 115 members of the security forces were killed in January. But the UNAMI statement left out deaths from ongoing fighting in Anbar, due to problems in verifying "the status of those killed." The figures also leave out insurgent deaths.
Al-Qaida-linked fighters and their allies seized control of Fallujah and parts of another Anbar city, Ramadi, last month after authorities dismantled a protest camp by Sunnis angry at what they consider second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government.
The government and its tribal allies are besieging the rebel-held areas, with fighting reported daily.

Syrian army advances in Aleppo
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian activists say that government forces have killed at least six people with barrel bombs dropped by helicopter onto rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo.
Hassoun Abu Faisal of the Aleppo Media Center and another local activist, Ahmad al-Ahmad, said Saturday's attack targeted the al-Bab area of the city. Abu Faisal said the explosions smashed buildings and set at least 10 cars alight. Those killed included civilians who were trying to flee the area by car after hearing the approaching helicopters.
Syrian government forces have been intensely shelling Aleppo and its surroundings for several weeks as they advance on areas held by rebels.
Abu Faisal said the shelling appeared intended to flatten buildings and force civilians to flee while allowing ground forces easier entry into rebel-held areas.

UN chief pushes for quick return to Syria talks
MUNICH (AP) -- The United Nations' secretary-general has pressed the U.S. and Russia to help ensure that peace talks aimed at stemming Syria's civil war can resume on Feb. 10 as proposed by the U.N. mediator.
A week of peace talks ended in Geneva Friday with no concrete progress and no immediate commitment from President Bashar Assad's envoys to return on the date suggested by mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Saturday he urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a security conference in Germany "to use their influence to ensure the talks proceed as scheduled on Feb. 10."
He urged the warring sides to return to the talks "with more sense of earnestness as well as seriousness and urgency."


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