World news

Syrian army's Aleppo advance slows but victory in sight

By Laila Bassam and John Davison ALEPPO, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army's advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the nation's second city would change the course of the six-year civil war in his favor. Lightning gains in recent days in which government forces and their allies recaptured Aleppo's historic Old City lost some momentum in the face of stiff rebel resistance but the Syrian leadership was confident. Assad has long sought to seize divided Aleppo which would put him in control of Syria's major cities, the south, central spine and western flank bordering the Mediterranean, dealing a devastating blow to rebels who have fought to unseat him.

Iraqi troops pull out from Mosul hospital after fierce battle

By Ahmed Rasheed, Saif Hameed and Isabel Coles BAGHDAD/MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said. The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block. The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army's push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq's largest northern city.

Exclusive: Risking Beijing's ire, Vietnam begins dredging on South China Sea reef

By Lincoln Feast and Greg Torode SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Vietnam has begun dredging work on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, satellite imagery shows, the latest move by the Communist state to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway. Activity visible on Ladd Reef in the Spratly Islands could anger Hanoi's main South China Sea rival, Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the group and most of the resource-rich sea. Ladd Reef, on the south-western fringe of the Spratlys, is completely submerged at high tide but has a lighthouse and an outpost housing a small contingent of Vietnamese soldiers.

U.S. estimates 50,000 Islamic State fighters killed so far: U.S. official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military believes that some 50,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since the United States started battling the group more than two years ago, a senior U.S. military official said on Thursday, calling it a "conservative estimate." The official, who spoke to Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity, said the figure showed how the United States was effectively combating the group with U.S.-led coalition airpower and limited U.S. troop deployments in support of local forces. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Reese)

Italy president starts talks to seek way out of political crisis

By Steve Scherer and Francesca Piscioneri ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president began talks with political leaders on Thursday to seek a way out of the political crisis caused by the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Sergio Mattarella, a 75-year-old former constitutional court judge, must decide if someone can lead Italy to elections scheduled for 2018, or whether an interim government should serve until a snap vote can be held in spring. Renzi tendered his resignation on Wednesday after a bruising defeat in a referendum on which he had staked his political future.

Brazilian squatters offer shelter from anti-gay violence

By Nacho Doce BOSTON (Reuters) - A multi-colored gay pride flag hangs in a corner of a bare room in an abandoned Sao Paulo art deco building that was once the headquarters of Brazil's social security agency. The room is home to several members of Brazil's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community seeking refuge from discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people. "The occupation is a space where we can feel safe," Rodrigo, a tall shaven-headed gay man says as he strokes his black beard.

Ghana's opposition candidate 'confident' he's won

Ghana's opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo told a cheering crowd on Thursday he was "confident" he's won the presidential election, despite the official results not yet being released. Speaking to a rowdy crowd of New Patriotic Party (NPP) supporters gathered at his private residence, Akufo-Addo said he believed he had defeated long-time rival and incumbent John Mahama. "We the NPP are quietly confident that we have won a famous and historic victory," Akufo-Addo said, calling for his supporters to be patient and peaceful while the electoral agency tallies the results.

Trump's Labor Dept pick sends early warning sign to worker advocates

By Amanda Becker and Robert Iafolla WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump will name fast-food executive Andy Puzder to head the U.S. Department of Labor, according to a source familiar with the matter, in an appointment likely to antagonize organized labor. Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc [APOLOT.UL], which operates the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's fast-food chains, has been a vociferous critic of government regulation of the workplace. Puzder frequently publishes commentary and gives television interviews in which he argues that higher minimum wages would hurt workers by forcing restaurants to close, and praises the benefits of automation in the fast-food industry.

EU takes legal action against Germany, UK over VW scandal

By Alissa de Carbonnel BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union began legal action on Thursday against Germany, Britain and five other member states for failing to police emissions test cheating by carmakers after the Volkswagen diesel scandal. Amid mounting frustration in Brussels over what EU officials see as governments colluding with the powerful car industry, the European Commission is wielding its biggest available stick in an attempt to force nations to clamp down on diesel cars spewing health-harming nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution. German officials - who say EU law is poorly framed - had expected Brussels to stop short of confronting the EU's leading power and by far its biggest car manufacturer, at a time when the unity of the bloc is being challenged by eurosceptics and Britain's vote to leave.

The Latest: Turkey sends 300 more troops to Syria border

BEIRUT (AP) ? The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

English FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino for 18 months

LONDON (AP) ? Leeds owner Massimo Cellino has been banned by the English Football Association from serving as a club director for 18 months for breaking agent regulations.

Tensions mount as Ghana awaits election results

Ghana's opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo confidently boasted of impending victory as tensions mount in the country over delays in releasing the results of a nail-biting presidential election tainted by violence. The high-stakes race between incumbent John Mahama and rival Akufo-Addo is seen as a litmus test of stability for one of Africa's most secure democracies. Speaking to a rowdy crowd of New Patriotic Party (NPP) supporters gathered at his private residence, Akufo-Addo said he was "confident" he'd defeated Mahama despite the electoral agency not yet releasing the official results.

'Pissed off' Belgian prince faces dressing down by PM

By Alastair Macdonald BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Belgian king's younger brother faces a dressing down from the prime minister after demanding that politicians and the royal family "stop bugging" him over claims his business ventures are losing money. The summons from Prime Minister Charles Michel, amid some concern for the stability of the monarchy, came on Thursday after Prince Laurent, a sports car-loving 53-year-old, let off steam at a journalist who quizzed him over the financial health of his renewable energy interests. "If certain politicians would get off my back, if my family would get off my back, I could show you that these accounts are positive." Michel told the Belgian parliament, where often squabbling ranks of French- and Dutch-speakers look to the royal house and King Philippe to hold the country together, that the family's enfant terrible had, not for the first time, gone too far.

Combine Flights?