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One of the last condors alive freed

San Francisco — Banking into the wind and then gliding out of sight, a male California condor flew back into the wild after a captive breeding program that helped save North America’s largest species of land bird. The 35-year-old bird named “AC-4” soared out of his open pen earlier this week at a canyon rim inside the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, in central California’s Kern County. He had been one of just 23 condors left in the world in the 1980s. It was the bird’s first free flight since 1985, when a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team captured him near the same spot. It was part of a last-ditch attempt to stop the extinction of the California condor, which has a wing span of more than 9 feet. AC-4 needed only …

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Lakers rip Sixers without Bryant

Los Angeles – The young Los Angeles Lakers are eventually going to have to learn how to play well as a team minus Kobe Bryant once he retires at the end of this season. They had an opportunity Friday night to gauge themselves as a group and as individuals without him on the floor. And it was veteran Lou Williams, who led the way. Williams scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter against his former club and Jordan Clarkson added 19, leading Los Angeles to a 93-84 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers, who were coming off a 112-104 victory at Boston on Wednesday night, have won consecutive games for the first time since a three-game stretch last February against Boston, Utah and Milwaukee. “We're starting to play off each …

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White House South Lawn becomes first lady’s grassy stage

WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama's affection for the White House South Lawn has grown just like the sweet potatoes and carrots she plants there. During seven years as first lady, Mrs. Obama has often used her family's temporary backyard as a grassy stage from which to promote a lifestyle built around plenty of fresh, nutritious food and lots of exercise. But to Mrs. Obama, the 6-plus acres of manicured grass and gardens are more than a place to talk about diet and health. It's a symbolic venue for a mother of two from the South Side of Chicago who stepped into the role of presidential spouse with the goal of welcoming more visitors, especially children, to the seat of world power. "While our family might live upstairs, the president and I know that the …

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South African group reports slight drop in rhino poaching

JOHANNESBURG — A conservation group says the number of rhinos poached in South Africa in 2015 was slightly lower than in the previous year, a statistic that, if confirmed, would be the first annual drop in numbers since rhino poaching surged around 2008. Citing unidentified sources, Elise Daffue, founder of StopRhinoPoaching.com, says there were about 1,160 reported cases of rhino poaching last year, down from 1,215 in 2014. She says the drop reflects law enforcement efforts to stop poaching in South Africa, home to most of the world's rhinos. Another South African conservationist, Allison Thomson, said Saturday that the figure of 1,160 killed rhinos seems low and does not include rhino carcasses yet to be found. The South African government says it will release 2015 statistics on rhino poaching early this year.

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Moderate 5.3 earthquake rocks Afghanistan, Pakistan

  KABUL, Afghanistan — A moderate 5.3-magnitude earthquake in northern Afghanistan was felt in the capital, Kabul, and across the border in Pakistan, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter of Saturday's quake was 22 miles (35 kilometers) southeast of Jarm, Afghanistan, in the sparsely populated Hindu Kush region. A 7.5-magnitude quake in the same region in October caused extensive damage in northwestern Pakistan and killed around 400 people.

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China creates 3 new army units to improve its fighting capability

Beijing — China has created three new military bodies as part of reforms to modernize its military – the world’s largest standing force – and improve its fighting capacity. State television on Saturday showed President Xi Jinping giving military flags to the leaders of the three new units – a general command for the People’s Liberation Army, a missile force and a strategic support force. At the ceremony, which took place Thursday, Xi and PLA officers and soldiers sang the national anthem. Xi said the three new units were created as part of a modernization reform and “to realize the Chinese dream of a strong military.” He has promulgated the idea of a “Chinese dream” involving “the great renewal of the Chinese nation” and sees a strong military as key to this. The military …

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Japan’s emperor wishes for peace in New Year’s appearance

TOKYO — Japan's Emperor Akihito expressed his hopes for world peace as he appeared Saturday with his wife, Empress Michiko, sons and grandchildren behind bullet-proof glass before thousands of well-wishers waving flags. The 82-year-old Akihito, who was scheduled to make five such appearances at Tokyo's Imperial Palace Saturday, also released a New Year's statement in which he expressed his sympathy for people displaced from their homes and still living in temporary housing after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan. Michiko, wearing a pinkish beige dress, waved to the crowd, estimated by public broadcaster NHK at 44,000 in the morning. That's likely to double in the afternoon. Masako, wife of the crown prince who has made rare public appearances because of a stress-related illness, also joined this year's New Year's …

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15 killed in early hours of new year in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador, suffering an epidemic of violence, opened the early new year with 15 more people gunned down, including an 11-year-old killed by men dressed as police, officials said Friday. Two men, two women and an 11-year-old child were slain in the early hours by men dressed like police, who stormed into two humble dwellings and sprayed them with gunfire. The killings occurred in the Los Cerritos community about 160 kilometers (95 miles) east of the capital, San Salvador. In a second incident, National Police Commissioner Veronica Uriarte said agents on patrol encountered five alleged gang members in Valle Nuevo just south of San Salvador and exchanged gunfire, killing five. Five more people were killed in various incidents, two in rural Nueva Concepcion north of the capital; two …

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Philadelphia celebrates New Year’s Day with Mummers Parade

PHILADELPHIA — Outrageously costumed Mummers have strutted and twirled at Philadelphia's annual New Year's Day parade, a colorful celebration that features string bands, comic brigades, elaborate floats and plenty of feathers and sequins. Participants danced wildly and toted parasols Friday down Broad Street, the city's main north-south thoroughfare, during the 116th edition of what has been called Philadelphia's Mardi Gras. New this year was the "Philadelphia Division," meant to inject some diversity into the parade, with two new Hispanic performance groups, a black drill team and the LGBT Miss Fancy Brigade. But some critics called the parade offensive, with one performing group painting their faces brown to portray Mexicans and a comic brigade mocking Caitlyn Jenner. Dozens of activists from the Black Lives Matter movement used the parade to stage a protest.

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Saudi beheadings soar in 2015 under discretionary rulings

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide. Coinciding with the rise in executions is the number of people executed for non-lethal offenses that judges have wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes. Rights group Amnesty International said in November that at least 63 people had been executed since the start of the year for drug-related offenses. That figure made for at least 40 percent of the total number of executions in 2015, compared to less than four percent for drug-related executions in 2010. Amnesty said Saudi Arabia had exceeded its highest level of executions since 1995, when 192 executions …

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