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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 city would change the course of the six-year-old war. Russia's RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying the Syrian army, which has captured territory including Aleppo's historic Old City in recent days, had halted military activity to let civilians leave rebel-held territory. Washington said it had no confirmation that the army had ceased fire.

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.

South Korea's President Park faces historic impeachment vote

By Jack Kim and Cynthia Kim SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye, engulfed in an influence-peddling scandal, faces a historic impeachment vote in parliament on Friday that could see her become the country's first democratically elected leader to be ousted from office. Parliament is expected to vote in favor of impeachment, with support from some members of Park's conservative Saenuri Party, but the Constitutional Court must decide whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take up to 180 days. Parliament introduced the impeachment bill on Thursday and it must be voted on within 24 to 72 hours.

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 southwestern 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)

Brazil's Temer to call Trump as country seeks business openings

By Alonso Soto and Anthony Boadle BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Michel Temer plans to call U.S. President-elect Donald Trump next week as Brazil looks for business opportunities that could open up if Trump follows through on campaign promises to rewrite a trade deal with Mexico. A senior Brazilian official said on Thursday that Temer would call Trump for their first conversation since the New York businessman was elected to the White House last month.

Russia says Syria army halts Aleppo attacks as rebels cornered

Syria's army has halted its attacks in Aleppo to allow trapped civilians to be evacuated, Russia's foreign minister said, after advancing regime forces cornered rebels in the city. Immediately after the announcement, AFP correspondents in Aleppo said air strikes ceased and artillery fire was far less intense, but later reported that the army was continuing to shell two rebels districts, Kalasseh and al-Maadi. The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights monitoring group also reported sporadic clashes with new raids and artillery fire late Thursday and said at least 18 civilians had been killed during the day in rebel zones by regime raids and artillery.

Top Asian News 12:30 a.m. GMT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) ? South Korean lawmakers are preparing for a likely impeachment vote against President Park Geun-hye that, if successful, would drive her from power amid a corruption scandal. The vote will probably happen Friday, which is the last day of the current parliamentary regular session. The opposition feels confident because dozens of members of Park's ruling party have said they'll vote to impeach. Parliament faces huge pressure to act. Millions of South Koreans have taken to the streets in fury over what prosecutors say was collusion by Park and a longtime friend to extort money from companies and to give that friend extraordinary sway over government decisions.

The Latest: Turkey sends 300 more troops to Syria border

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

Italian tourist shot dead by drug traffickers in Rio

Drug traffickers shot an Italian tourist in the head and killed him Thursday, after he and his companion strayed into a slum in Rio de Janeiro, police said. Roberto Bardella, 52, and his cousin were traveling on motorcycles through South America and arrived in Brazil after visiting Argentina and Paraguay. "They were in Rio as tourists, visiting the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and they consulted their GPS to find their way to the beach," civil police spokesman Fabio Cardoso told reporters.

U.N. urges Myanmar's Suu Kyi to visit country's divided northwest

The United Nations urged Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday to visit the country's divided northwest to reassure civilians they will be protected amid accusations that soldiers have raped Rohingya Muslim women, burnt houses and killed civilians. Myanmar's military and government have rejected the allegations. Soldiers have poured into the area along Myanmar's frontier with Bangladesh, responding to coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine police officers.

African governments urged to help 3.5 million people uprooted from their homes in 2015

By Tom Gardner ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As many as 3.5 million people in Africa were uprooted from their homes in 2015 due to conflict and natural disasters and left stranded in their own country, with many governments overlooking this growing problem, according to a report released on Friday. Figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) showed an average of about 9,500 people fled their homes daily last year, bringing the total number of Africans displaced internally to 12.4 million, with the number set to rise in 2016. The report calculates the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) is double the number of the continent's refugees, estimated by the United Nations to have reached 5.4 million in 2015, highlighting the scale of Africa's comparatively overlooked "internal displacement crisis".

UN to vote on 'too little, too late' Syria ceasefire

Canada drafted the text, part of the 193-nation assembly's attempt to break the deadlock over Syria at the Security Council. Russia and China this week vetoed a draft Security Council resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo, the Syrian city that is on the verge of falling to government forces.

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