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Father of pilot captured by IS pleads for release
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- The father of a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State group in Syria pleaded for his son's release on Thursday, reminding militants that his son shared the same faith as the ultraconservative group....

Afghans hope for change after bloody year
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- When Graeme Smith arrived in Afghanistan in 2005, he drove across the country from Kabul south to the Talban's former capital Kandahar on a newly paved road that cut travelling time from a bone-rattling 14 hours to just six....

Pope wishes Christmas hope and peace for Mideast
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis focused his concern on those weeping in the world this Christmas, singling out refugees, hostages and others suffering in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine as he prayed for hope and peace Thursday....

Text of pope's Christmas Day message
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Here is the official Vatican English-language translation of Pope Francis' `'Urbi et Orbi' Christmas Day message, which he delivered in Italian from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Thursday:...

China tightens church control ahead of Christmas
BEIJING (AP) -- Two days before Christmas, members of a rural Christian congregation in eastern China welded pieces of metal into a cross and hoisted it onto the top of a worship hall to replace one that was forcibly removed in October....

Russia's Putin scraps New Year's holidays for ministers
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday scrapped New Year's holidays for government ministers because of the unfolding economic crisis....

Official: Gunmen attack AU base in Somalia
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Gunmen attacked the African Union's main base in the capital, Mogadishu, leading to an exchange of gunfire between militants and soldiers on Thursday, an official and a witness said....

Swimmers brave cold for Berlin Christmas swim
BERLIN (AP) -- For a group of hardy Berliners, Christmas Day is a time to sing seasonal songs, don festive wear - and take a plunge in a cold lake....

Saudi to dig into reserves for the 2015 budget
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's Cabinet has endorsed a budget for 2015 that projects a slight increase in spending and a significant drop in revenues due to sliding oil prices, resulting in a $39 billion deficit....

Romanians at Ceausescu's grave, 25 years after death
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- Romanians nostalgic for the communist era gathered Thursday at the grave of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, who were tried and executed on Christmas Day twenty-five years ago....

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Official: Gunmen attack AU base in Somalia

2004 tsunami: Children in mud, lone mosque in Aceh

Swimmers brave cold for Berlin Christmas swim

Latin America/Caribbean
Cuba relations with Catholic Church at high point

Middle East
Father of pilot captured by IS pleads for release