Thousands flee to Central African Republic protected airport as death toll mounts

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- Thousands of Christian civilians sought refuge at an airport guarded by French soldiers Friday, fleeing from the mostly Muslim ex-rebels with machetes and guns who rule the country a day after the worst violence to hit the chaotic capital in nine months.

When several French helicopters landed at the airport, people sang with joy as they banged on plastic buckets and waved rags into the air in celebration.

Outside the barbed wire fences of the airport, bodies lay decomposing along the roads in a capital too dangerous for many to collect the corpses. Thursday’s clashes left at least 280 dead, according to national radio, and have raised fears that waves of retaliatory attacks could soon follow.

"They are slaughtering us like chickens," said Appolinaire Donoboy, a Christian whose family remained in hiding.

France had pledged to increase its presence in its former colony well before Christian militias attacked the capital at dawn Thursday. The arrival of additional French troops and equipment came as the capital teetered on the brink of total anarchy and represented the greatest hope for many Central Africans.

Death of Mandela is a time of reckoning for South Africa, again in global spotlight

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- What next for South Africa?

This racially charged country that, on Nelson Mandela’s watch, inspired the world by embracing reconciliation in all-race elections in 1994 is again in the global spotlight after the loss of such a towering historical figure. It is a time not just for grief and gratitude, but also a clear-eyed assessment of national strengths and shortcomings in a future without a man who was a guide and comfort to so many.

"It’s a new beginning," said Kyle Redford, one of many outside the home of the anti-apartheid leader who became the nation’s first black president. "The loss of a legend is going to force us to come together once again."

He acknowledged that there is a "sense of what next: Where do we go? What do we do? And how do we do it?"

Mandela’s resolve rubbed off on many of his compatriots, though such conviction is tempered by the reality that his vision of a "rainbow nation" failed, almost inevitably, to meet the heady expectations propelling the country two decades ago. Peaceful elections and relatively harmonious race relations define today’s South Africa; so do crime, corruption and economic inequality.

In theaters at time of Mandela’s death, film shifts from tribute to big-screen eulogy

NEW YORK (AP) -- With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the sweeping biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" transforms in the midst of its theatrical release from a living tribute to a big-screen eulogy.

The South African revolutionary and former president, who died Thursday at the age of 95, has long been a compelling figure for movies -- a hero of uncommon dignity whose dramatic story and titanic accomplishments insured his tale would be told often in film.

But arguably the fullest movie portrait of Mandela’s life -- a film made with his permission and his family’s support -- was released just six days before his death.

News of Mandela’s death broke as "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" played during its London premiere, where Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenani were in attendance. A spokesman with the film said the daughters requested that the film continue, though they immediately left the theater. Producer Anant Singh, who has spent more than a decade trying to get the film made, called for a moment of silence at the film’s end.

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" opened in a limited release of four theaters in the U.S. last Friday. When the film opens wide on Christmas, it’s sure to draw larger crowds moved to remember Mandela. The Weinstein Co.’s challenge is to not appear to be capitalizing on Mandela’s passing, but celebrating his life.

Most heed warnings and stay inside as freezing rain, winds shut down North Texas

DALLAS (AP) -- Freezing rain and stinging winds slammed the Southwest Friday and made a strangely blank landscape out of normally sun-drenched North Texas: mostly empty highways covered in a sometimes impassable frost, closed schools and businesses, and millions of residents hunkered down for icy conditions expected to last through the weekend.

Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures that hit the 80s. But by Thursday, Texas was facing the same wintry blast that has slammed much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.

The weather forced the cancellation of Sunday’s Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months. A quarter of a million customers in North Texas were left without power, and many businesses told employees to stay home to avoid the slick roads.

Rob Yates, 44, of the Dallas suburb of Rowlett, had trained for four months to participate in the half-marathon Sunday -- his first time competing at that distance. His wife and three children were going to attend the race to volunteer and cheer him on, he said.

Now, "I’ll probably be catching up on some work," Yates said, laughing.

Repair job improves health care website, but consumers should still verify enrollment

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It doesn’t rival Amazon and Travelocity, but President Barack Obama’s much-maligned health insurance website finally seems to be working reasonably well most of the time.

Still, consumers are well-advised to verify, not just trust.

More than 3.7 million people visited HealthCare.gov this week -- and it didn’t crash, administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille deadpanned Friday on a call with reporters.

Officials say 29,000 people enrolled the first two days of the week, exceeding total signups for the 36 states served by the federal site during October, the month of its problem-plagued launch.

Work has shifted from zapping technical gremlins that frustrated consumers to cleaning up garbled enrollment files that the system has been delivering to insurers.

World Cup draw gives defending champion Spain a repeat of the 2010 final

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (AP) -- One of the worst finals in World Cup history -- Spain vs. the Netherlands -- will be reprised in one of the first games of the 2014 edition.

Friday’s draw proved kind for host nation Brazil.

It also put three former winners -- Italy, Uruguay and England -- together in one daunting group.

The United States drew one of the shortest straws. Its game schedule will send Jurgen Klinsmann’s team pinging around on a 9,000-mile trip across the world’s fifth-largest country.

Having only squeezed into the tournament via a playoff, 1998 winner France could hardly believe its luck, drawing a manageable group of Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras.