United in prayer, South Africans give thanks for the life of
Nelson Mandela

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) -- In death, Nelson Mandela unified South Africans of all races and backgrounds Sunday on a day of prayer for the global statesman -- from a vaulted cathedral with hymns and incense to a rural, hilltop church with goat-skin drums and barefoot dancing.

Mandela was remembered in old bedrocks of resistance to white domination as well as former bastions of loyalty to apartheid.

"May his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us," worshippers said in a prayer at the majestic St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, where the first white settlers arrived centuries ago aboard European ships.

South Africa’s reflection on Mandela’s astonishing life was a prelude to a massive memorial in a Johannesburg stadium Tuesday that will draw world leaders and luminaries. They will gather to mourn, but also to salute the achievements of the prisoner who became president and an emblem of humanity’s best instincts.

The extended farewell -- a bittersweet mix of grief and celebration -- ends Dec. 15, when Mandela is to be buried in his rural hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.

Close family friend recalls Mandela’s last hours and says it was obvious he was ‘giving up’

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nelson Mandela wasn’t on life support and had many family members and doctors close by in his final hours, a family friend who was at his bedside said Sunday.

Bantu Holomisa told The Associated Press that he had been called to Mandela’s home on Thursday by the family so he could visit the anti-apartheid icon before he died.

"You judge the mood in the house. I know the family. It was not the same family I used to see. Even the call itself, ‘please pop in, we think Madiba is in his last days’," Holomisa said. "I assume the family was warned by the doctors."

The end came soon. The former president died about two hours after the departure of Holomisa, who was a former deputy minister in Mandela’s Cabinet.

Neither the Mandela family nor the South African government has released details on the final hours of Mandela or given a cause of death. The account by Holomisa, who says he has known Mandela since he stepped out of prison in 1990, sheds some light on Mandela’s condition as his life ebbed away and on the mood and scene inside the Mandela home at that time.

Ukraine sees largest anti-govt protest since 2004 Orange Revolution; Lenin statue toppled

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Ukraine’s capital on Sunday, toppling a statue of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and blockading key government buildings in an escalating standoff with the president over the future of the country.

The biggest demonstration in the former Soviet republic since Ukraine’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 led the government to fire back. It announced an investigation of opposition leaders for an alleged attempt to seize power and warned the demonstrators they could face criminal charges.

The West pressed for a peaceful settlement.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians flooded the center of Kiev, the capital, to demand President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster after he ditched ties with the European Union in favor of Russia and sent police to break up an earlier protest in the nearly three-week standoff.

"Ukraine is tired of Yanukovych. We need new rules. We need to completely change those in power," said protester Kostyantyn Meselyuk, 42. "Europe can help us."

UN says Afghanistan slow in enforcing 4-year-old law
protecting women

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The United Nations complained Sunday that Afghan authorities have been slow in enforcing a law protecting women against forced marriages, domestic violence and rape.

A report issued by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan found that although Afghan authorities registered more reports of violence against women under the four-year-old law, prosecutions and convictions remained low.

In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described the law as a "landmark" and said it "was a huge achievement for all Afghans."

"But implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law," she said.

Afghanistan enacted its Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. It criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault and more than a dozen other acts of violence and abuse against women.

ANKorea acknowledges that Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle removed from power for ‘anti-state’ acts

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea on Monday acknowledged the purge of leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle on allegations of corruption, drug use and a long list of other "anti-state" acts.

The lengthy dispatch by state media apparently ends the career of the country’s second most powerful official and leaves Kim Jong Un without a man long considered his mentor as he consolidated power after his father’s death two years ago.

Jang Song Thaek formed a faction in the ruling party "by creating an illusion about him" and distorting and weakening party goals, the dispatch said.

Jang was described as "abusing his power," being "engrossed in irregularities and corruption," having "improper relations with women," taking drugs, and gambling at casinos while undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country.

South Korean intelligence officials said days ago that two of Jang’s aides had been executed for corruption, and a recent state documentary in the North had all images of Jang removed.

At a Damascus church, Syrian Christians pray for return of nuns held by rebels

DAMASCUS (AP) -- Syrian Christians offered prayers Sunday for a group of more than a dozen nuns and orphanage workers held by rebels for nearly a week, fueling fears in the minority community that they are being targeted by extremists among the fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.

The seizure of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and at least three other women is the latest attack to spark panic among Syria’s Christians over the strength of al-Qaida-linked militants and other Islamic radicals in the nearly 3-year-old revolt against Assad’s government. A priest and two bishops previously kidnapped by rebels remain missing, and extremists are accused of vandalizing churches in areas they have captured.

Rebels seized the nuns on Monday from the Greek Orthodox Mar Takla convent when fighters overran Maaloula, a mainly Christian village north of Damascus that lies on a key highway and has changed hands several times in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces. The group, along with three women -- themselves orphans -- who work in the convent’s orphanage were taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud.

The eldest of the nuns is nearly 90 years old, and the youngest of the orphanage workers is in her mid-teens, according to Mother Superior Febronia Nabhan, head of the Saidnaya Convent.

On Friday, a video was released of the nuns, in which they denied being kidnapped, saying they were in good health and that fighters had taken them to a location away from the combat out of concerns for their safety.

An AP reporter’s quest to find bodies of victims killed by Malian military ends in the desert

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) -- Across the desert, the wind combs the sand into smooth ripples that roll out evenly for miles. So when a hole is dug, you see it immediately. The sand looks agitated. Its pattern is disturbed.

That’s how you know where the bodies are buried.

Close to three dozen people in northern Mali disappeared earlier this year, killed or taken away by the country’s military, according to human rights groups. The victims were caught in a backlash against Arabs and Tuaregs, desert people who form a small and shrinking ethnic minority in Mali. As the West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, I wanted to know what had happened to them.

Over six months, my colleagues and I tracked down what we would rather not have found: Six bodies in the desert, including that of a 70-year-old grandfather who had become a symbol of the killings. In each case, the victims had last been seen taken away by the Malian military at gunpoint. And in at least four of the cases, the military was found responsible in an internal report described to me but never released to the public.

The bodies offer concrete evidence for killings that Mali’s government has so far denied in public. If the government acknowledges their deaths, it could open a path to bring those who killed the men to justice. It also finally could return the bodies to their bereft families, who did not know where their loved ones were buried, or were too terrified to recover them.

After NYC train crash, senators press to require cameras to watch train engineers and tracks

NEW YORK (AP) -- A week after four people died in a New York commuter train derailment, two federal lawmakers proposed Sunday that trains nationwide be outfitted with cameras pointed at engineers and at the tracks.

"I know you’re going to hear from Metro-North that there are costs, but the costs of these audio and visual recorders is minuscule, in fact negligible, compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that this tragic incident will cost Metro-North in the end," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who joined New York Sen. Charles Schumer for a news conference at Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal.

Last Sunday, a Metro-North Railroad train approached a curve on the tracks just north of Manhattan going at 82 mph instead of the speed limit of 30 mph. Rail cars careened off the tracks, with the front car ending up inches from the water where the Hudson River meets the Harlem River.

A lawyer and union leader for the derailed train’s engineer, William Rockefeller, have said the train’s hypnotic motion may have caused him to experience a "nod" or a "daze" at the controls.

The Democratic lawmakers are urging the Federal Railroad Administration to demand the implementation of a measure they say might prevent the kind of deadly Metro-North derailment that also left dozens of people injured.

fter school closures, Chicago officials call transition smooth; some kids, teachers disagree

CHICAGO (AP) -- Devion Allen peers wistfully through a door window at the school he used to attend. Those who live outside his gritty, violence-plagued neighborhood might dismiss this towering brick building as just another failing urban school. But to the eighth grader, the school across the street from his mom’s subsidized apartment was a haven -- "like a family," he says.

To the administrators of Chicago Public Schools, though, the neighborhood school was underutilized and underperforming -- one of 47 public schools that closed in the city in June, most of them in high-poverty neighborhoods with mostly minority populations. Two more will be phased out by the end of the school year.

Allen left his school for the last time last summer, holding back tears as chaos and protests ensued. From that point on, the school, formerly known as Lafayette Elementary, became a symbol in a citywide and even national debate about the future course of public education.

Soon, officials say, the empty building will likely house an arts high school operated as a contract school, publicly funded but privately run.

"It’s not fair," Allen said. He and many of his friends, meanwhile, have been shifted to a school about a half mile away, one that is smaller than their old school and jammed with twice as many students as it had last school year.