His ‘long walk’ over,
Nelson Mandela is buried
in South African village where he grew up

QUNU, South Africa (AP) -- His flag-draped casket resting on a carpet of animal skins, Nelson Mandela was laid to rest Sunday in the green, rolling hills of the eastern hamlet where he began his extraordinary journey -- one that led him from prison to the presidency, a global symbol of endurance and reconciliation in the fight against South Africa’s racist rule.

Artillery boomed and military aircraft roared through a cloud-studded sky, as the simple and the celebrated gathered to pay their final respects in Mandela’s native village of Qunu at a state funeral that blended ancient tribal rituals with a display of the might of the new, integrated South Africa.

"Yours was truly a long walk to freedom and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your maker," Brig. Gen. Monwabisi Jamangile, chaplain-general of the South African military, said as Mandela’s casket was lowered into the ground at the family gravesite. "Rest in peace."

"I realized that the old man is no more, no more with us," said Bayanda Nyengule, head of a local museum about Mandela, his voice cracking as he described the burial attended by several hundred mourners after a larger funeral ceremony during which some 4,500 people, including heads of state, royalty and celebrities, paid their last respects.

The burial ended a 10-day mourning period that began with Mandela’s death on Dec. 5 at 95, and included a Johannesburg memorial attended by nearly 100 world leaders and three days during which tens of thousands of South Africans of all races and backgrounds filed past Mandela’s casket in the capital, Pretoria.

Xhosa tribal rituals featured in Mandela’s state funeral

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nelson Mandela’s casket was draped in a lion skin, an ox was ritually slaughtered and a family elder kept talking to the body’s spirit: The state funeral for South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Sunday included these rituals from the tradition of the Xhosa tribe, to whom Mandela’s Thembu clan belongs.

The coffin of the country’s first democratically elected President was wrapped in the South African flag, standing atop animal skins during the funeral in Mandela’s southeastern childhood village of Qunu. The ceremony was an eclectic mix of traditional rituals, Christian elements and the military honors of a state funeral.

His body was buried around noon, "when the sun is at its highest and the shadow at its shortest," Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy leader of the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress, said during the ceremony.

Here’s a brief look at the Xhosa people and the main elements of their burial traditions:

The Xhosa people

After attack on capital,
C. African Republic Christian militias seek to overthrow president

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- The Christian militiamen fighting to oust Central African Republic’s Muslim president from power hide in the hills far on the edge of the capital. Out of the forest of banana trees, about two dozen young men slowly emerge to meet their visitors -- armed with clubs, machetes and hunting rifles.

These 20- and 30-somethings don’t look much different from the young men who sell air time for mobile phones in town, apart from their weapons and the spiritual protection they wear. On top of their soccer jerseys and t-shirts, they sport long rope necklaces with leather pieces and charms known as gri-gri that they say will save them from the bullets and machetes of their enemy.

As ragtag as they may appear, they pose the greatest threat to the Muslim ex-rebels now ruling the country since they seized power in the majority Christian country nearly nine months ago. And in interviews with The Associated Press, both the militiamen and a former officer in the national army before the March 2013 coup confirmed they are working together to topple rebel leader-turned-President Michel Djotodia.

"We are revolting so that Djotodia and his fighters leave, and the country can live in peace," said Richard Bejouane, 27, who used to harvest manioc root and peanuts before taking up arms against the rebels known as Seleka earlier this year.

Though the militia movement’s hierarchy is unclear and there are divisions in its leadership, the collaboration is evidence that the opposition movement to Djotodia and his fighters is growing, and could set the stage for a protracted sectarian conflict even as 1,600 French troops on the ground in Bangui try to secure the peace. French forces are supposed to be disarming Muslim and Christian fighters, though the Christian militia hideouts in the bush have made them harder to find.

Ukrainian opposition presses demands with massive rally; doubts
about EU pact emerge

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- About 200,000 anti-government protesters converged on the central square of Ukraine’s capital Sunday in a dramatic show of morale after nearly four weeks of daily protests, but the rally was shadowed by suggestions that their goal of closer ties with Europe may be imperiled.

A much smaller demonstration of government supporters, about 15,000, was taking place about a kilometer (less than a mile) away from Kiev’s Independence Square. Anti-government protesters have set up an extensive tent camp there and erected barricades of snow hardened with freezing water and studded with scrap wood and other junk.

U.S. Sens. John McCain and Chris Murphy joined the anti-government demonstration to express support for them and their European ambitions, threatening sanctions against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych if authorities use more violence to disperse the protests.

The protests began Nov. 21 after Yanukovych announced he was backing away from signing a long-awaited agreement to deepen trade and political ties with the EU and instead focus on Russia, and have grown in size and intensity after two violent police dispersals.

In the face of the protests, which present a serious challenge to Yanukovych’s leadership, Ukrainian officials this week renewed talks with the EU agreement and promised that they would sign the deal once some issues are worked out.

Michelle Bachelet wins back Chile’s presidency vowing corporate tax
hikes to fund education

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chile’s once and future leader Michelle Bachelet easily won Sunday’s presidential runoff, returning center-left parties to power by promising profound changes in response to years of street protests.

Bachelet won with 62 percent of the vote to 38 percent for the center-right’s Evelyn Matthei, who promptly congratulated her rival. "I hope she does very well. No one who loves Chile can wish otherwise," Matthei said.

But turnout was just 41 percent, a factor that worried Bachelet, who needs a strong mandate to overcome congressional opposition and make good on her promises.

"I hope people can come and participate and through their vote give a clear expression of the kind of Chile where they want to continue to live," Bachelet said after casting her ballot earlier Sunday. "The changes we need can’t be produced through skepticism."

Bachelet, 62, ended her 2006-2010 presidency with 84 percent approval ratings despite failing to achieve any major changes.

Actor Peter O’Toole, best known for starring role in ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ dies

LONDON (AP) -- Known on the one hand for his starring role in "Lawrence of Arabia," leading tribesmen in daring attacks across the desert wastes, and on the other for his headlong charges into drunken debauchery, Peter O’Toole was one of the most magnetic, charismatic and fun figures in British acting.

O’Toole, who died Saturday at age 81 at the private Wellington Hospital in London after a long bout of illness, was nominated a record eight times for an Academy Award without taking home a single statue.

He was fearsomely handsome, with burning blue eyes and a penchant for hard living which long outlived his decision to give up alcohol. Broadcaster Michael Parkinson told Sky News television it was hard to be too sad about his passing.

"Peter didn’t leave much of life unlived, did he?" he said.

A reformed -- but unrepentant -- hell-raiser, O’Toole long suffered from ill health. Always thin, he had grown wraithlike in later years, his famously handsome face eroded by years of outrageous drinking.

Aid groups scramble to help Syrian refugees facing bitter, icy winter in tents

BAALBEK, Lebanon (AP) -- Shivering in the snow, Syrian Aisha Mohammad looked at the last-minute charity that saved her children from freezing during the smack of a particularly tough Lebanese winter: a wood-burning stove complete with twigs and garbage to ignite in hopes of warming her drafty tent in an icy eastern plain.

Still, her seven children quake from the cold in their donated, bright plastic rain boots, even as they build snowmen resembling their own skinny selves. Since fleeing Syrian government shelling in the northeast province of Raqqa nine months ago, their playground has been here, among the rows of crowded tents they call home.

"We would have frozen to death," without the aid, said the tall, 40-year-old wife of a day laborer who also lives at the camp as she held her runny-nosed four-year-old daughter, Rawan.

Like tens of thousands of impoverished refugees living in tents, shacks and unfinished buildings throughout Lebanon, the family faces a miserable winter as aid organizations scramble to meet their needs, constantly overwhelmed by ever-more people fleeing the Syrian conflict, now entering its third year.

Some one-third of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced, with 2.3 million now refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.

Leaders of moderate Syrian rebels vow to protect journalists and help prevent kidnappings

BEIRUT (AP) -- The leaders of Syria’s main Western-backed moderate rebel faction said they would do everything in their power to protect journalists on assignment in the country and work to secure the release of those who have already been abducted.

The letter from the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the Syrian National Coalition, came in response to an appeal from 13 major international news organizations calling for urgent action against rebel groups targeting journalists for kidnappings. Syria has become the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, and the number of abductions has soared to an unprecedented level over the past year.

Many of the kidnappings go unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the abductions out of public view may help with negotiating the captives’ release. The scale of the abductions -- more than 30 are believed to be currently held -- and the lack of response to individual mediation efforts have encouraged some families and employers to speak out.

The vast majority of the kidnappings over the past six months have occurred in opposition-held parts of northern and eastern Syria, where al-Qaida-linked rebel groups are particularly strong.

Thirteen news organizations, including The Associated Press, sent a letter last week to the Supreme Military Council, which is the leadership of the moderate Free Syrian Army, as well as individual armed groups to urge them to help curb abuses against journalists.

Colorado governor visits school shooting victim; says post-Columbine security measures worked

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- Colorado’s governor asked the nation Sunday for prayers for the 17-year-old girl who was critically wounded by a classmate at her suburban Denver high school.

Gov. John Hickenlooper also credited security procedures adopted after the 1999 massacre at nearby Columbine High School for helping put a quick end to the Arapahoe High School shooting by Karl Pierson, an 18-year-old student who shot Claire Davis at point-blank range before killing himself.

"We all have to keep Claire in our thoughts and prayers," he told CBS’ "Face the Nation." Davis is hospitalized at Littleton Adventist Hospital.

Hickenlooper told The Associated Press that Davis’ parents "are remarkable people. I feel so directly their suffering. ... They raised this beautiful young woman who had her whole life ahead of her."

About 500 classmates held a candlelight vigil Saturday for Davis, who was sitting with a friend near the school library when she was shot in the head. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson has said investigators think she was shot at random by Pierson, who had gone into the school looking for a teacher with whom he had a dispute.