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Taliban say unable to attend Pakistan talks; blame blacklist

The Taliban has postponed an unscheduled round of peace talks with the United States set for Monday in Pakistan saying "most" members of their negotiating team are unable to travel because they’re on the U.S. and United Nations’ blacklists.

The statement Sunday offered no other details. It did not explain how several members previously were able to travel to meetings in the United Arab Emirates and Moscow.

The Taliban maintain a political office in Qatar, where members of the negotiating team reside. The Islamabad talks were seen as significant, coinciding with the visit of the Saudi crown prince to Pakistan.

The Taliban 14-member team includes five former inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and Anas Haqqani, the jailed younger brother of the leader of the militant Haqqani network.

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Sex abuse survivors say Vatican summit must deliver action

Roman Catholics who were sexually abused by clergy are insisting that decisive actions to confront the decades-long problem of pedophile priests and church cover-ups must come out of an upcoming Vatican summit.

A founding member of the advocacy group Ending Clergy Abuse, Peter Isely, contended Sunday that Pope Francis is "facing resistance" from top Vatican officials as he prepares to convene bishops from around the world.

"Let me tell you what it was like to try and have to resist that priest when I was a boy who was sexually assaulting me," Isely said. "So whatever difficulty for him or discomfort this is for anybody in the papal palace, it is nothing compared to what survivors have had to undergo."

Isely offered his perspective in an interview with The Associated Press near St. Peter’s Square shortly before Francis spoke of the importance of the Feb. 21-24 event on protecting children and teenagers in the church,.

Addressing faithful in the square, Francis asked for prayers for the gathering of the heads of Catholic bishops’ conferences worldwide.

Francis said he wanted the summit, to be "an act of strong pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time."

Revelations in many countries about priests raping and committing other kinds of sexual abuse against children and a pattern of bishops hiding the crimes have shaken the faith of many Catholics.

They also test the pontiff’s ability to ensure the safety of children and punishment for the abusers as well as any complicit superiors.

The Vatican announced Saturday that Francis approved the expulsion from the priesthood for a former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, for sexual abuse of minors and adults.

But survivor advocates also have demanded that Francis say what he and other top Vatican officials knew about the prelate’s sexual wrongdoing, which spanned decades.

"You abuse a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood," Isely said. "If you cover up for abusing a child, you have to be removed from the priesthood, and this is the only thing that is going to turn the corner on this global crisis."

Another founding member of the group, Denise Buchanan, a native of Jamaica, said a priest raped and assaulted her when she was 17.

"That rape actually resulted in a pregnancy, and the priest arranged for an abortion," Buchanan said.

Veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi told the AP he also sees the pope facing inside resistance.

"There is a struggle going on between the pope and his supporters who want a change, and a lot of people among the bishops and among the clergy who don’t want transparency and applying law and order in the abuse issue in the world," Politi said.

Some of Francis’ critics contend that as a product of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical culture, he, too, has been slow to recognize the hierarchy’s role in perpetuating abuse by pedophile priests.

Francis has tried to temper expectations for the summit, saying in January the "problem of abuse will continue" because "it’s a human problem." Isely of Ending Clergy Abuse said the bar should be high and the participants "have to deliver for survivors."

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Saudi crown prince arrives in Pakistan for regional visit

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his four-day regional visit on Sunday, arriving in Pakistan where Saudi officials signed agreements worth $20 billion to help the Islamic nation overcome its financial crisis.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and top government and military officials greeted him at Islamabad’s airport, where he received a 21-gun salute. Earlier, Pakistan Air Force jets escorted Prince Mohammad’s flight when he entered the country’s airspace.

At the airport, a young boy and girl in traditional Pakistani dress handed the prince flowers. He was greeted by a host of Pakistani Cabinet ministers and the country’s powerful army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Khan himself drove the prince to the prime minister’s residence, where he was met by an honor guard.

During his two-day stay in Pakistan, the crown prince will hold formal talks with Khan to find ways to enhance bilateral cooperation. Saudi Arabia will invest in the energy sector across the country, including setting up an oil refinery in the southwest near the border with Iran. The move will likely irk Tehran as Iran is Saudi Arabia’s regional foe.

Shortly after his arrival, Prince Mohammad, accompanied by a high-powered delegation including leading businessmen and Cabinet ministers, attended a signing ceremony for the investment agreements worth $20 billion.

"This is first phase," he said, at the ceremony, adding that he hoped the future would bring even more Saudi investment in Pakistan.

"Saudi Arabia has always been a fiend of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has been a friend in need," Khan said.

Pakistan is in the grip of a major debt crisis and is seeking a $12 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund but has yet to sign the deal which comes with tough conditions.

Prince Mohammad will later travel to neighboring India amid heightened tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi over this week’s attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 41 troops.

This week also saw an attack in Iran that killed 27 Revolutionary Guard soldiers that was claimed by the Pakistan-based militant Jaish al-Adl group.

Pakistan condemned the attacks, but India and Iran blame it for the violence.

Pakistan enjoys close ties with Saudi Arabia. It maintains a balancing act between Riyadh and Tehran.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday that the visit by the crown prince will take their countries’ bilateral relations "to new heights."

Pakistan voiced support for the prince during the international outcry after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. Khan attended an investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October that saw a wave of cancellations linked to the Khashoggi killing.

The crown prince has called the killing a "heinous crime that cannot be justified."

Khashoggi, who had written critically about the prince, went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. After denying any knowledge of his death for weeks, Saudi authorities eventually said that he was killed in an operation aimed at forcibly bringing the writer back to the kingdom.

Saudi prosecutors say the plan was masterminded by two former advisers to the crown prince.

The kingdom denies the crown prince knew of the plot.

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Cancun club shooting leaves 5 dead, 5 wounded, authorities say

At least five people were killed and another five were wounded Saturday after four gunmen opened fire inside a club in Cancun, Mexico, authorities said.

The men, armed with a long gun and three handguns, opened fire inside La Kuka, a club located on a main avenue in central Cancun about 4 miles away from the seaside tourist hotel zone, Quintana Roo state prosecutors said.

Two of the five wounded in the shooting remains in critical condition on Sunday.

Cancun and Quintaroo have seen an uptick in violence in the last year, with federal authorities reporting 774 people killed in the state last year, compared to the recorded 359 killings in 2017.

The violence may be due to reports of the Jalisco New Generation cartel moving into the Caribbean resort city and fighting other local gangs to gain control of the area.

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In January, three gunmen in Cancun shot and killed seven people at a home. The deadly shooting was due to an apparent dispute and ordered by a suspected gang leader who has been linked to the Jalisco cartel.

At least five people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a club in Cancun, Mexico.

At least five people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a club in Cancun, Mexico. (iStock)

Homicide cases in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, shattering the country’s record for the second consecutive year, government statistics show. The U.S. State Department’s travel advisory in November urged people to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to Mexico due to crime.

“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread,” the advisory stated.

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Cancun remains one of the most popular travel destinations in Mexico and in the world.

Fox News’ Greg Norman and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Israel to withhold $138 million in Palestinian funds

Israel says it will withhold over $138 million from the Palestinian Authority for payments given to families of Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israelis.

The government’s security Cabinet said Sunday that it was implementing a law passed last year allowing Israel to withhold funds used to pay stipends to Palestinian attackers and their families from taxes Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf.

Israel says the payments encourage violence — a claim the Palestinians reject.

The freeze comes as the Palestinians face major budget cuts made last year after the United States slashed funding for the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee program UNRWA and for development programs in the Palestinian territories. The U.N.’s World Food Program also cut back services due to funding shortages.

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In Nigeria's tight election, Christian vote is seen as key

Nigeria’s presidential campaign has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote when Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, defeated a Christian president from the south who had grown unpopular over his failure to control Boko Haram.

Now, with the leading candidates both northern Muslims, the Christian vote in the upcoming election on Saturday may be decisive in sweeping the incumbent from power for the second time in as many elections in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria’s 190 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari and his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, who dominate in the north.

Yet religious tensions remain even in an election that offers no clear sectarian choice, underscoring the pervasive influence of faith in Nigerian politics.

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About 40 people remain trapped in Liberian gold mine

Liberian authorities say rescuers are digging with their bare hands in an effort to free about 40 people who have been trapped for a week in a collapsed gold mine.

Archievego M. Doe, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency, said Sunday that officials are now trying to arrange for an excavator to help the rescue effort in northeastern Liberia.

So far seven bodies have been recovered and Monday has been declared a national day of mourning.

The government deployed army and police to the Gbonipea mining town over the weekend, where they met with resistance from some local miners. Officials said about 65 illegal gold miners were arrested for battling the deployment.

Red Cross officials are also in the area trying to determine how many people remain trapped.

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Polish PM cancels Israel visit amid new Holocaust tensions

A Polish government official says Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will not attend a meeting in Israel starting Monday amid new tensions between the two countries over how to remember Polish behavior during the Holocaust.

Michal Dworczyk, who heads Morawiecki’s chancellery, announced the change of plans on Sunday.

Netanyahu made an off-hand comment last week during a Middle East conference in Warsaw that "Poles cooperated with the Nazis" – wording suggesting some Poles during the German occupation of Poland participated in killing Jews.

He was initially quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying "the Poles," which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation.

Both Netanyahu’s office and the newspaper say he was misquoted in an editing error, but the Polish government said it was not satisfied.

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UN envoy arrives in Yemen to discuss truce around port city

Yemeni security officials say U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths has arrived in the capital, Sanaa, to discuss the "complex situation" in and around the key port city of Hodeida.

The Houthi rebels say their leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, met with Griffiths on Sunday to discuss the implementation of peace deals from December talks with Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

Yemen’s warring sides agreed to a cease-fire in December, as well as a prisoner exchange that has yet to take place.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Iran-aligned rebels. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The officials spoke anonymously as they weren’t authorized to brief journalists.

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Italian populists ask if minister deserves immunity

Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition, is asking its supporters to vote online on whether the leader of its junior coalition partner should be prosecuted.

The Senate’s immunity panel votes this week to recommend if Sicily-based magistrates should prosecute anti-migrant League party leader Matteo Salvini. As interior minister, Salvini is under investigating for alleged kidnapping for refusing for days in 2018 to let migrants rescued at sea disembark at a Sicilian port from an Italian coast guard ship.

The 5-Stars members are in a bind. As an anti-establishment force, on principle it considers parliamentary immunity an "elite" privilege. But if their lawmakers vote to lift Salvini’s immunity, that risks worsening a rift in the government with the League.

So the 5-Stars are sounding out supporters.

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Libyans, to varying degrees, celebrate 2011 uprising

Libyans are celebrating the eighth anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, with the varying intensity of festivities underscoring the split between the country’s east and west.

Hundreds of people reveled Sunday in the western cities of Tripoli, Misrata and Zawiya, where bands played national songs and flags lined the streets.

But festivities were much more subdued in the country’s east, with only a few people gathering at the central courthouse in Benghazi, a city that has billed itself as the birthplace of Libya’s uprising.

Libya remains largely a chaotic patchwork of territory run by militias and gangs, with rival administrations in Tripoli and the east.

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Assad: Only Syrian army can protect groups in northern Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad says only the Syrian army can protect groups in northern Syria.

In a speech in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, he appeared to be referring to U.S.-allied Kurdish groups, which fear a Turkish assault once American troops withdraw from northeastern Syria.

Assad said any foreign troops in Syria will be dealt with as occupation forces.

He did not specifically mention the planned withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from northern Syria but said "no one should bet on protection from the Americans." He suggested that the Syrian army will return to the area after the American troop pullout.

"Every inch of Syria will be liberated, and any intruder is an enemy," he said.

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24 bodies found after Zimbabwe mine disaster; search goes on

Searchers have recovered 24 bodies from a mine in Zimbabwe that was flooded after heavy rains, trapping dozens of subsistence miners underground.

Henrietta Rushwaya, leader of the country’s small-scale miners’ association, said Sunday that 23 of the bodies have been identified since the disaster on Tuesday near Kadoma.

Eight people were rescued from the flooded tunnels, and all but one have been discharged from a hospital after treatment.

The government is continuing its search, saying up to 70 gold miners may have been trapped after a dam wall collapsed and water rushed into nearby mining tunnels.

Large groups of people using picks, shovels and hoes are commonly seen in Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich fields. The miners operate without regulation. Illegal mining has become rampant in a country where many people are unemployed.

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Iran unveils first semi-heavy missile-equipped submarine

Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s President Hassan Rouhani has unveiled the first Iranian made semi-heavy submarine.

The Sunday report said the Fateh, "Conqueror" in Persian, is capable of being fitted with cruise missiles.

Since 1992, Iran has developed a homegrown defense industry that produces light and heavy weapons ranging from mortars and torpedoes to tanks and submarines.

The Fateh has subsurface-to-surface missiles with a range of about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the region.

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India's fastest train breaks down on its first trip

The fastest train to hit the rails in India came to an abrupt halt on Saturday during its first trip, one day after it was premiered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Vande Bharat Express was on its way from Varanasi to New Delhi in the northern Utta Pradesh when it ran into trouble.

"There seems to be disruption due to a possible cattle run over. It wasn’t a scheduled commercial run," Asian News International said in a post on Twitter.

India's fastest train, the "Vande Bharat Express," broke down on Saturday during its inaugural run.

India’s fastest train, the "Vande Bharat Express," broke down on Saturday during its inaugural run. (Ministry of Railways)

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India’s NDTV reported that power went out in some coaches on the train, with a "foul smell and mild smoke" reported due to a "mechanical fault in the braking system" that caused the train to move at a sluggish speed.

There were no signs of damage on the front of the train, but it was stalled for about 2 hours before resuming its journey only to break down again, according to NDTV.

The train, which was carrying mostly railway officials and journalists, eventually made it to New Delhi where repairs are expected to be made.

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The Indian-built Vande Bharat Express can reach a maximum speed of up to 110 miles per hour, Reuters reported.

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The new train is expected to make its commercial debut on Sunday. The express train is expected to reduce the travel time between Delhi and Varanasi by six hours, according to the BBC.

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Rights group: 14 Tunisian workers kidnapped in Libya

A rights group in Libya says an armed group has kidnapped 14 Tunisian workers near the capital, Tripoli.

The National Commission for Human Rights in Libya said late Saturday that the Tunisians were abducted on their way to work at an oil refinery in the western city of Zawiya.

It said the armed group, which it did not name, demanded the release of a Libyan man, also unnamed, detained in Tunisia on drug-related charges.

Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry says the workers were kidnapped on Thursday.

In 2015, an armed militia stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli and took 10 staff members hostage.

Libya slid into chaos after its 2011 uprising that toppled long-time ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The country is currently governed by militia-backed rival authorities in Tripoli and the east.

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Teen who joined ISIS gives birth in Syria, says people should be sympathetic toward her

A teenager who fled the United Kingdom to join the Islamic State said people should be sympathetic toward her after her family revealed the 19-year-old gave birth to a baby boy in Syria.

Shamima Begum, who has been living in Syria for the past four years, gave birth at a refugee camp and she and the baby are in good health, her family said in a statement.

"We, the family of Shamima Begum, have been informed that Shamima has given birth to her child; we understand that both she and the baby are in good health,” the family’s lawyer said, according to Sky News. "As yet we have not had direct contact with Shamima, we are hoping to establish communications with her soon so that we can verify the above."

UK OFFICIAL VOWS TO PREVENT RETURN OF BRITONS WHO BACKED ISIS

Begum revealed to The Times newspaper that she wants to return to the U.K. after spending four years in Syria. She was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to the country to marry ISIS fighters in 2015.

Metropolitan police released this image in 2015 of Kadiza Sultana, left, Shamima Begum, center, and Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport, south England, before catching their flight to Turkey.

Metropolitan police released this image in 2015 of Kadiza Sultana, left, Shamima Begum, center, and Amira Abase going through security at Gatwick airport, south England, before catching their flight to Turkey. (AP)

She told the newspaper that she was pregnant twice and gave birth to two babies, but they died of starvation and illness.

Before she gave birth to her third child, Begum said she wanted to raise the child in Britain with her family. She told Sky News on Sunday that she lived as a housewife since 15 while she was married to a Dutch ISIS fighter and insisted she “never did anything dangerous.”

“I think a lot of people should have sympathy toward me for everything I have been through. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left,” she told Sky News. "I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they’d [U.K. government officials] let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp forever."

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Begum said U.K. authorities didn’t have “any evidence” to prove she participated in ISIS activities.

"When I went to Syria I was just a housewife for the entire four years. Stayed at home, took care of my kids,” she added. “I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria."

Her legal situation remains unclear. She may face charges for supporting the banned extremist group.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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