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Captives held by Islamic State prove tough quandary for Obama

By Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After Islamic State's beheading of journalist James Foley, President Barack Obama's administration is making little headway in efforts to secure the release of three other Americans held by the insurgent group in Syria, officials said. Journalist Steven Sotloff and two others whom Reuters is not naming are among fewer than 10 Westerners that Islamic State (IS) is holding in kidnappings that until recently were aimed at simply raising ransoms, they said. Washington has contacted about two dozen countries for help in freeing the three, but no foreign government appears to have influence over or even significant contact with IS, which has declared an Islamic caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

120 injured as police clash with protesters in Islamabad

At least 120 people were wounded in clashes between thousands of police and protesters in Pakistan's capital Islamabad Saturday, as a fortnight-long political impasse took a violent turn when opposition groups attempted to storm the prime minister's residence. The protesters had been camped outside parliament house since August 15 demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quit, claiming the election which swept him to power last year was rigged.


5 highlights from California's legislative session

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of September to sign or veto the hundreds of bills sent to him by the Legislature. Here are five notable actions, some of them firsts in the country, that state lawmakers took in the final days of this year's legislative session, which ended early Saturday:


Obama, Harper discuss NATO summit, Iraq in phone call: White House

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper talked by telephone on Saturday to discuss next week's NATO summit in Wales and the situation in Iraq, the White House said. "Both leaders agreed on the importance of ensuring Alliance unity on measures to strengthen NATO's readiness and responsiveness to the full range of current and future threats," the White House said in a statement. Obama stressed that agreeing on increased defense investment in all areas would be a top priority at the NATO summit, it added.

Israel agreed Gaza truce to focus on jihadist threat: Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel agreed to a permanent truce in its 50-day Gaza war with Hamas in order to keep focused on the threat from regional militants. "We fought for 50 days and we could have fought for 500 days, but we are in a situation where the Islamic State is at the gates of Jordan, Al-Qaeda is in the Golan and Hezbollah is at the border with Lebanon," Netanyahu said in an address on public television. He was referring to Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq -- both neighbours of Jordan -- Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front Syria rebels on the Israeli-annexed Golan and Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah. "We decided not to get bogged down in Gaza, and we could have, but we decided to limit our objective and restore calm to Israeli citizens," Netanyahu added.


Tunisia recovers 41 bodies from sea near Libya

Tunisian rescuers have recovered the bodies of at least 41 migrants since Friday after their ship sank off the Libyan coast and more are expected to be found, officials said. The victims were found in an area that has seen many boatloads of illegal migrants capsize. "Forty-one bodies have been recovered," Mustapha Abdelkebir, the mayor of Ben Guerdane in southeast Tunisia, said on Saturday. He said that this was only a provisional toll -- echoing an earlier warning from the director of El Ketf port Fethi Abaab -- and said that search operations were suspended for the night.


Poland's Tusk, Italy's Mogherini get EU top jobs

European leaders Saturday named Polish Premier Donald Tusk the next EU president and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to head its diplomatic service as the bloc faces a series of challenges topped by Ukraine. Tusk, who speaks only halting English and no French, is the first eastern European to hold such a senior post in the EU and is known as a tough critic of the Kremlin, especially over the Ukraine crisis. "The suspense is up, the new EU leadership team is complete," said current EU President Herman Van Rompuy moments after the announcement was made. Van Rompuy said the new team faced three major challenges: the stagnating European economy, the crisis in Ukraine which he called "the gravest threat to continental security since the Cold War," and Britain's place in the EU.


Lebanon army probes 'jihadist beheading of soldier'

The Lebanese army is investigating pictures and video footage of the alleged beheading of a Lebanese soldier by Islamic State jihadists, a military spokesman told AFP on Saturday. IS supporters released a video showing the decapitation of a blindfolded man in military fatigues, and presented as one of 19 Lebanese soldiers abducted by jihadists in eastern Lebanon on August 2. "We are investigating," a military spokesman said, without saying whether the video was thought to be authentic. One gunman charges that his death is in reprisal for the Lebanese army acting "under the orders" of Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is fighting alongside Syrian regime forces against rebels and jihadists.


Greece looks to debt relief in EU-IMF talks

A delegation of senior Greek ministers heads into meetings in Paris with EU-IMF creditors on Tuesday hoping to win a direly-needed new round of debt relief to propel economic recovery. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government expects creditors -- the so-called troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- to reward Greece's recent reform achievements with a concrete pledge to reduce payments on its massive debt. Despite a major reduction in 2012, Europe's statistics agency Eurostat estimates the country's debt in 2013 exceeded 318 billion euros ($420 billion), or 175.1 percent of economic output, up from 304 billion, or 157.2 percent, a year earlier. Much of the debt is held by European institutions, and Greece says alleviation could come through lower interest rates or longer maturities.


Number of Yazidi refugees in Turkey swells to 16,000: official

The number of refugees from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority who have fled to Turkey from the advance of jihadists has risen to 16,000 and may rise further, a top provincial official was quoted as saying Saturday. The number marks a sharp rise from the figures of several thousand previously given and shows Turkey is dealing with another major influx of refugees as it gives sanctuary to some 1.2 million fleeing the Syria conflict. Some 2,000 Yazidi refugees have entered Turkey through legal border crossings and another 14,000 through other routes, Sirnak province governor Hasan Ipek was quoted as saying in a statement by his office. Turkey is already setting up a refugee camp for Yazidis in the town of Zakho inside northern Iraq and Ipek said it had to function well, "otherwise we are faced with the prospect of 40,000 (Yazidi) refugees entering Turkey."


Guinea Ebola riots wound dozens

Clashes between protesters and security forces in a Guinean city at the epicentre of the west African Ebola outbreak have left at least 55 wounded, the local government said on Saturday. A curfew was imposed in N'Zerekore, Guinea's second-largest city, after two days of protests Thursday and Friday by market stall holders against a team of health workers sent, without notice, to spray their market with disinfectant. Regional governor Lancei Conde said at least 27 law enforcement officers forces were among the wounded. Local lawmaker Honomou Kourouma blamed the violence on former rebels, without specifying which groups he was referring to.


Iraq gets Russian Mi-28 attack helicopters: ministry

Baghdad (AFP) - Iraq has received Russian Mi-28 attack helicopters and will use them against militants who have overrun large parts of the country, the defence ministry said on Saturday.


One dead as migrants, residents clash in Morocco

A clash between sub-Saharan migrants and residents of a Tangiers neighbourhood in northern Morocco left a Senegalese man dead, the prefecture and an NGO said on Saturday. A "disagreement" late on Friday between residents and "would-be clandestine migrants" involving the throwing of stones led to one man being killed and 14 injured, the city prefecture said, without identifying the victim. Hicham Rachidi, founder of Moroccan anti-racism group Gadem, told AFP the man was from Senegal. Among the injured, "an Ivorian was hospitalised and is in a critical condition", Rachidi said.


Guinea-Bissau in nationwide anti-Ebola clean-up

Guinea-Bissau launched a nationwide hygiene drive on Saturday, declaring itself "on alert" after the announcement that the Ebola epidemic ravaging west Africa had spread to neighbouring Senegal. The campaign will involve the cleaning and disinfection of public places "across the entire country" on the last Saturday of every month, Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira's office said. In Guinea-Bissau's capital, Bissau, President Jose Mario Vaz spearheaded the clean-up outside the Bandim market, dressed in casual sportswear and holding a dust pan.


Protesters descend on British city ahead of NATO summit

Around a thousand pacifist and anti-nuclear demonstrators marched through Newport on Saturday ahead of the NATO summit in the British city next week. Various left-wing organisations took part in the protest, including the Stop The War Coalition group and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Among the reasons protesters said they were demonstrating were NATO expansion, the Gaza conflict, nuclear weapons, "imperialist wars", Ukraine, arms sales to Israel and capitalism. Around 150 heads of state and ministers from around 60 countries are expected to attend the summit on Thursday and Friday at the Celtic Manor golf resort outside Newport in southeast Wales.


Fate of UN peacekeepers in Syrian Golan unclear

UN peacekeepers caught up in heavy fighting on the Golan Heights were evacuated Saturday as the fate of 44 colleagues captured by Syrian rebels remained uncertain. An AFP photographer heard intense small arms and missile fire in the buffer zone separating the Israeli-occupied part of the strategic plateau and the Syrian part, where soldiers with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) are being held. Irish soldiers with UNDOF, which is responsible for ensuring the maintenance of the armistice line between Israel and Syria, took part in an evacuation of UN troops during Saturday's fighting, the Irish military said in a statement.


U.S. to push for coalition to fight 'cancer' of Islamic State: Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will use a NATO summit next week to push for a coalition of countries to beat back incursions in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants who are destabilizing the region and beyond. "With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries," Kerry wrote in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Saturday. Public anger over the beheading of American journalist James Foley has led President Barack Obama to consider military strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. So far, the United States has limited its actions to the group's forces in Iraq.


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