Obama says 2014 can be breakthrough year for U.S.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says he believes 2014 can be a breakthrough year for the country.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says the U.S. is primed to bring back jobs lost in the recession or to overseas competitors. But he says to make that happen, the U.S. must act to create good-paying jobs and increase economic opportunity.

Obama says he wants to work with Congress. But he says when Congress doesn’t act, he’ll act on his own. He’s pointing to a new manufacturing innovation institute the government helped launch in North Carolina.

In the Republican address, Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman says Democrats have focused on "making it easier to live without a job."

China, Japan slug it out
in the world’s press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- China and Japan are engaged in a war of words on editorial pages around the world. Beijing has taken aim at a recent visit by Japan’s leader to a divisive war shrine, and Tokyo has answered back.

Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. fired the latest salvo Friday. In The Washington Post, he accused China of a global propaganda campaign that portrays Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (shin-zoh ah-bay) as glorifying Japan’s militaristic past.

The dueling opinion pieces are appearing in a growing number of newspapers around the world.

Both nations have been criticized for recent actions. China has declared an air defense zone over a disputed area of the East China Sea. The Japanese prime minister visited Yasukuni, where World War II war criminals are among the many enshrined.

Iran official: Limiting uranium enrichment and stockpile nation’s ‘most important commitments’

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Ahead of the start of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, an official in the Islamic Republic called limiting uranium enrichment and diluting its stockpile the country’s "most important commitments," state radio reported Sunday.

The comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman of Iran’s atomic department, show how the government of moderate President Hassan Rouhani welcomes the deal, which begins Monday. International inspectors also already have arrived in Tehran, preparing for the government opening its facilities to them.

"Implementation of mutual commitments in the framework of the Geneva deal will begin from tomorrow," Kamalvandi said. "Under the agreement, suspension of 20-percent enrichment of uranium -- and the diluting of the current stockpile of enriched uranium -- are the most important commitments of our country."

Iran struck the deal in November with the so-called P5+1 countries -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Negotiators agreed to final terms of the deal Jan. 13.

Under the agreement, Iran will limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent -- the grade commonly used to power reactors. The deal also commits Iran to stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium -- which is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material -- and to neutralize its 20 percent stockpile over the six months.

Al-Qaida-linked group in Syria calls for an end to rebel infighting

BEIRUT (AP) -- The head of an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria reached out to rival rebel groups who have been engaged in a bloody battle with his fighters this month, calling for the two sides to end their infighting and instead unite against the government and its allies.

Rebel-on-rebel infighting between the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and an array or ultraconservative and more moderate rebel factions has killed more than 1,000 people across opposition-held northern Syria since it began in early January. The clashes are the most serious among the opponents of President Bashar Assad in Syria’s nearly three-year civil war.

In a new 16-minute audio message posted online Sunday, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accused the other rebel brigades of stabbing his group in the back, and said the infighting only benefits the government.

"You know that we did not want this war, we did not go for it and we did not plan for it. It is clear that the beneficiaries of this war are the Nusayris and the Shiites," he said, using a derogatory term for Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

But he also called for reconciliation, saying the Islamic State "is extending its hand so that we refrain from attacking each other and so that we can join forces" against Assad and his allies.

Iraq announces offensive against al-Qaida militants controlling parts of provincial capital

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militias launched an all-out offensive Sunday to push al-Qaida militants from a provincial capital, an assault that killed or wounded some 20 police officers and government-allied tribesmen, officials said.

Since late December, members of Iraq’s al-Qaida branch -- known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar. They also control the center of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-al-Qaida groups that also oppose the Shiite-led government.

A military officer and two local officials said fierce clashes raged through Sunday night in parts of Ramadi, but gave no details.

Later, the commander of Anbar operations, army Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, said that Iraqi special forces retook al-Bubali village following fierce clashes with the militants who had held it for about three weeks. Al-Bubali lies on the road between Ramadi and Fallujah.

Fleih said that gunmen had booby-trapped several houses in the village before their retreat. He declined to give any figures regarding casualties.

Analysis: Egypt’s referendum falls short
of popular mandate
sought by top general

CAIRO (AP) -- For all the self-congratulatory headlines in Egypt’s pro-military media, the results of last week’s constitutional referendum may have fallen short of the emphatic popular mandate the nation’s military chief was looking for before announcing his presidential run.

Moreover, the outcome -- nearly everyone who cast a ballot approved the draft constitution, but turnout was low, at less than 39 percent -- has put on display the country’s enduring divisions six months after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and nearly three years after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

Another worrying aspect is that young Egyptians appear to have stayed away from the polls, probably because of frustration over the lack of real change and anger over the perceived return of Mubarak-era figures, along with such hated practices as police brutality and other heavy-handed tactics by security agencies.

The 98.1 percent "yes" vote cannot be seen as an accurate reflection of public opinion in "a country as big and as complex and divided as Egypt," said Khaled Fahmy, a political analyst who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo. "This is a very alarming figure. ... Something has gone very wrong."

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who led the July 3 coup that removed Morsi, has yet to say outright whether he will seek the land’s highest office. His supporters had viewed the Jan. 14-15 referendum on the new constitution as a vote on the general’s possible presidential bid.

Ukraine anti-government protests escalate into intense street battles
with police

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Anti-government protests in Ukraine’s capital escalated into fiery street battles with police Sunday as thousands of demonstrators hurled rocks and firebombs to set police vehicles ablaze. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured.

Police responded with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons, but were outnumbered by the protesters. Many of the riot police held their shields over their heads to protect themselves from the projectiles thrown by demonstrators on the other side of a cordon of buses.

The violence was a sharp escalation of Ukraine’s two-month political crisis, which has brought round-the-clock protest gatherings, but had been largely peaceful.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade demonstrators to stop their unrest, but failed and was sprayed by a fire extinguisher in the process. Klitschko later traveled to President Viktor Yanukovych’s suburban residence and said the president has agreed to negotiate.

"There are only two ways for events to develop. The first one is not to negotiate," Klitschko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "A scenario of force can be unpredictable and I don’t rule out the possibility of a civil war. ... And here we are using all possibilities in order to prevent bloodshed."

Police: Maryland woman charged in children’s death feared devil, thought exorcism was necessary

GERMANTOWN, Md. (AP) -- A Maryland woman charged with killing two of her children has told investigators that she thought an exorcism was necessary to remove the presence of the devil and evil spirits, a police captain said Sunday.

Zakieya Latrice Avery, 28, of Germantown, is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of the children, ages 1 and 2.

Montgomery County police responded to Avery’s home Friday morning following a neighbor’s 911 call. Police said they found the two children dead and two other siblings, ages 5 and 8, injured with stabbing wounds.

"She thought the devil was in the kids, and that’s sort of the thing she centered it around as to why she had to conduct an exorcism," said Capt. Marcus Jones, director of the police department’s major crimes division. "She just thought that there were evil spirits within the kids."

Another woman charged in the killings, Monifa Denise Sanford, 21, made similar statements during questioning, police said.

Afghan president again demands an end to U.S. airstrikes, says it’s condition for security deal

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan’s president demanded Sunday that the United States no longer carry out military operations or airstrikes and must jump-start peace talks with the Taliban before his country signs a security deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

President Hamid Karzai’s deepening anti-American rhetoric comes as the Taliban intensifies its assaults ahead of the planned withdrawal and after Friday’s militant raid on a popular Kabul restaurant, the deadliest single attack against foreign civilians in the course of the nearly 13-year U.S.-led war.

Although Karzai has made similar demands in the past, he has in recent weeks ratcheted up his condemnations of alleged U.S. failures as Afghans look fearfully ahead to an uncertain future.

Karzai made the statement after being presented with the findings of an investigation into a joint Afghan-U.S. military operation last week that resulted in civilian casualties which he blamed on a U.S. military air strike.

The U.S.-led international military coalition, however, provided a sharply different account Sunday of what happened during the two-day operation against insurgents in eastern Parwan province, saying it was an Afghan-led effort and carried out at the request of the government.

U.S. dropping case against man accused of piracy

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors are dropping their case against a Somali translator accused of being a pirate and playing an illegal role in the hostage siege aboard a Danish merchant ship off the coast of Somalia in 2008.

A jury last month deadlocked on two charges of hostage-taking against Ali Mohamed Ali. He had been found not guilty of the more serious charge of piracy.

Ali’s attorney Matthew J. Peed, objected to a retrial, arguing that if the refiled charges relied on the same basic facts, then Ali was being subjected to double jeopardy.

On Saturday, the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia said it had reviewed the case and agreed that prosecutors were obligated to dismiss the remaining charges against Ali.

Israel strikes Palestinian militant in Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The Israeli military says it carried out an airstrike targeting a Palestinian militant who it says fired rockets last week at Israel. A Palestinian health official says the man is in critical condition and two civilians were wounded.

The military says the militant launched five rockets toward Israel late last week. An Israeli anti-missile battery system intercepted the rockets.

The military says Ahmad Saad of Islamic Jihad planned more rocket launches in recent days.

An Islamic Jihad official in Gaza confirmed Saad was targeted Sunday. He spoke anonymously because he was unauthorized to speak to the press.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said two civilians were wounded by shrapnel.

Earlier Sunday, Israel struck Gaza after militants fired a rocket into Israel late Saturday. There were no injuries.