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IS, the jihadist group claiming world leadership

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group which spearheaded a sweeping militant assault that overran swathes of Iraq is now claiming leadership of the world's Muslims. Known for its ruthless tactics and suicide bombers, IS has carried out frequent bombings and shootings in Iraq, and is also arguably the most capable force fighting President Bashar al-Assad inside Syria. The group led by "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and backed by thousands of fighters in Syria and Iraq, some of them Westerners, appears to be surpassing Al-Qaeda as the world's most dangerous and influential jihadist group.

Cuba's lawmakers examine faltering economy

Cuba's parliament opened its twice-yearly session on Saturday, with the communist island's faltering economy topping the agenda. President Raul Castro was due to address the proceedings of the National Assembly, which plans to examine why one of the world's last command economies has not experienced greater growth, despite six years of reforms. Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez told a parliamentary committee that farming is experiencing "problems in all spheres" on the island, which will spend some $2 billion in precious hard currency on imported food. Cuba's economy in 2013 grew by 2.7 percent, below the official target of 3.6 percent.

Eight members of one family killed in Syria raid: NGO

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a man, his wife and their six children were killed in the raid on the town of Dael. Another man was killed in barrel bomb raids elsewhere in the southern province, the Britain-based group said. The Observatory said the children were aged 13, 12, 11, 10, eight and two. Syrian regime forces control Daraa city, but the province is divided between rebel and government control.

Senate majority could rest on the sage grouse

DENVER (AP) — An obscure, chicken-sized bird best known for its mating dance could help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate in November.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the jihadist 'caliph'

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the enigmatic self-proclaimed "caliph" of a state straddling Iraq and Syria, is increasingly seen as more powerful than Al-Qaeda's chief. The leader of the powerful Islamic State (IS) militant group was on June 29 declared "caliph" in an attempt to revive a system of rule that ended nearly 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In a video posted online on Saturday, purportedly the first known footage of Baghdadi, he ordered Muslims to obey him during a Ramadan sermon delivered at a mosque in the northern militant-held Iraqi city of Mosul. His appearance follows the June 29 declaration by IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani of a pan-Islamic "caliphate" with Baghdadi as its leader.

'Tortured' Sudan activists will not be broken: mothers

The mothers of two detained Sudanese political activists vowed Saturday that their sons "will not be broken" despite alleged torture and their detention without charge having been extended. A UN rights expert raised concern about the condition of Tajalsir Jaafar, 28; The three were detained outside the University of Khartoum on May 12, according to Girifna, a non-violent movement seeking an end to President Omar al-Bashir's government. "He is very strong and will not be broken by their torture or beatings," Jaafar's mother Sabah Osman Mohammed, told a news conference.

Democrats' Florida push calls for US shift on Cuba

MIAMI (AP) — When Charlie Crist went to Miami's Little Havana recently, the Democratic candidate for governor stood before a crowd and said what few politicians have in decades of scrounging for votes in the Cuban-American neighborhood: End the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Indonesia's Widodo rallies supporters ahead of poll

Presidential hopeful Joko Widodo pledged to build a "new history" for Indonesia at a huge campaign rally Saturday, a last push to win votes in a tight election race. Tens of thousands of cheering supporters waved flags emblazoned with pictures of Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, at Jakarta's main stadium on the final day of campaigning before Wednesday's election. Backers of his only rival, Prabowo Subianto, were holding rallies to show their support across the country, while the ex-general took time out to prepare for a televised debate with Widodo later Saturday. At the rally, Widodo -- seen as a fresh face in a country still dominated by figures from the autocratic Suharto era -- told the cheering crowd: "We are on the verge of building a new history."

Democrats courting Florida's changing Cuban voters

MIAMI (AP) — When Charlie Crist went to Miami's Little Havana recently, the Democratic candidate for governor stood before a crowd and said what few politicians have in decades of scrounging for votes in the Cuban-American neighborhood: End the trade embargo against Cuba.

Taliban set 200 fuel trucks on fire in Kabul

A Taliban bomb attack on the outskirts of Kabul set fire to some 200 fuel trucks that the militants claimed were supplying foreign troops in Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The tankers were set ablaze as they sat in a parking lot waiting to enter the Afghan capital, which is currently gripped by a fraud dispute over presidential elections last month. Taliban insurgents fighting a 13-year-war against US-led forces in Afghanistan often attack western supply convoys and claimed responsibility for the late Friday night attack. "At around 10:30 pm dozens of fuel tankers belonging to private companies caught fire," Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.

Iranian pilot 'killed fighting in Iraq': state media

An Iranian pilot has been killed while fighting in Iraq, state media reported Saturday, in what is thought to be Tehran's first military casualty during battles against Islamic State jihadists. Iran's official IRNA news agency did not say whether the pilot died while flying sorties or fighting on the ground. It said Colonel Shoja'at Alamdari Mourjani was killed while "defending" Shiite Muslim holy sites in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. His death comes after Iran's declarations that it will provide its western neighbour with whatever it needs to counter the Sunni militants who are laying siege to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Kurdish rebels 'to resume Turkey withdrawal in September'

Kurdish rebels will begin a stalled withdrawal from Turkey into their safe haven in northern Iraq after parliament passes reforms aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency, local media reported on Saturday. In an apparent bid to secure votes from the Kurdish community ahead of presidential polls in August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government submitted a bill to parliament last week that would remove a number of barriers to a final agreement. The six-article package of reforms would grant immunity to key actors involved in the peace talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which was hailed as a "historic development" by the group's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, stalled its withdrawal from Turkey last year, accusing the government of its failure to deliver on promised reforms including constitutional recognition for up to 15 million Kurds.

New Gaza fire as Israel Arabs join teen murder protests

Gaza militants fired a new volley of rockets into Israel Saturday, clouding Egyptian efforts to broker a renewed truce, after protests over a Palestinian teenager's murder spread to Arab-Israeli towns. Israeli police reported clashes in three mainly Arab towns in the northeast and centre late Friday after the east Jerusalem funeral of the teenager, believed to have been abducted and murdered by Jewish extremists. A rocket and a mortar round hit southern Israel from Gaza early Saturday after militants fired 18 on Friday, the army said. The persistent rocket fire came despite Egyptian efforts to broker a renewed truce between Israel and its Islamist foe Hamas in and around Gaza following a flare-up of cross-border violence.

Several killed as suicide car bomb explodes near Somali parliament

Several people were killed when a powerful suicide car bomb exploded near Somalia's parliament in the capital Mogadishu on Saturday, police and witnesses said. Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a surge of attacks in Mogadishu during Islam's holy month of Ramadan. There are casualties but we don't have details so far," police official Mohamed Idle told AFP. He confirmed a suicide bomber was in the car.

Egypt raises fuel prices to slash subsidies

Egypt's government has drastically raised fuel prices to tackle a bloated subsidy system, in a potentially unpopular move that might blow back on newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. With an economy battered by three years of unrest, successive governments had said that the subsidies which allow Egyptians to buy gasoline at some of the world's cheapest prices must be lifted.

Most union members have ties to government

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unions representing government workers are expanding while organized labor has been shedding private sector members over the past half-century.

Black Democrats look to Cochran on voting rights

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After black voters helped Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran survive an intense Republican primary runoff against an insurgent conservative challenger, some civil rights leaders in the South want him to repay the favor.

Myanmar opposition youth seek louder voice

Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar opposition party faced calls to inject new blood into its ageing top ranks as it opened a landmark conference Saturday dedicated to its youth wing. The Nobel Peace Prize winner's National League for Democracy (NLD), founded after a bloody crackdown on a failed popular uprising in 1988, is preparing for key parliamentary elections next year that could sweep it to power. Young activists were often at the vanguard of Myanmar's decades-old resistance to military rule, which ended in 2011 with the creation of a nominally civilian government. "I can guess that some youths might have in their mind that it's their turn to take their places, wondering whether the elders will give up their positions," Suu Kyi said in an opening address to the conference.

N. Korea leader directs island assault drill: report

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warned the South would "regret bitterly" any incursion of their disputed sea border as he directed a large-scale mock assault on an island, state media said Saturday. The joint landing drill involving the army, navy and air force followed a series of missile tests in the past week -- seen by some as a display of pique over Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit to Seoul. The mock assault is apparently aimed at five islands controlled by the South near the southwestern part of North Korea. Seoul suspects these islands, which provide outposts for the South, would be the first target for the North in case of an armed conflict.