TOP STORIES FROM EUROPE AT 1200 GMT

UKRAINE

MOSCOW — Crimea would be welcome as an equal part of Russia if the region votes to leave Ukraine in an upcoming referendum, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament said Friday. Valentina Matvienko met with the head of the Crimean parliament to discuss the region's possible accession to Russia. On Thursday, the parliament of Crimea voted to move the referendum date up to March 16, and to include a question on joining Russia. By Laura Mills. SENT: 380, photos. UPCOMING: 500 words by 1300 GMT.

UKRAINE-OLIGARCHS-TO-THE-RESCUE

KIEV, Ukraine — In a surprising move after Russia flexed its military might in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine's new leadership has reached out to oligarchs for help — appointing them as governors in eastern regions where loyalties to Moscow are strong. With their wealth, influence and self-interest in preventing further conflict, the oligarchs could be the key to calming tensions and maintaining Ukraine's control in areas where pro-Russian activists have stoked separatist tensions. By Maria Danilova. SENT: 1020 words, photos.

INTERNATIONAL-COURT-CONGO

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court on Friday convicted a rebel leader of charges including murder and pillage over a deadly attack on a village in eastern Congo, but acquitted him of rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers. Germain Katanga showed no emotion as judges convicted him as an accessory in the attack on the strategic village of Bogoro on Feb. 24, 2003, in which some 200 civilians were hacked or shot to death and many women were raped and turned into sex slaves. By Mike Corder. SENT: 280 words, photos.

TURKEY-INTERNET-BANS

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's prime minister has threatened drastic steps to censor the Internet, including shutting down Facebook and YouTube, where audio recordings of his alleged conversations suggesting corruption have been leaked in the past weeks, dealing him a major blow ahead of this month's local elections. In a late-night interview Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told ATV station that his government is determined to stem the leaks he insists are being instigated by followers of an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric. He has accused supporters of Fethullah Gulen of infiltrating police and the judiciary and of engaging in "espionage," saying that the group even listened in on his encrypted telephone lines. The Gulen movement denies involvement. By Suzan Fraser. SENT: 350 words, photos.

GREECE-GERMANY

ATHENS, Greece — German President Joachim Gauck is to visit a village in northwestern Greece Friday where German troops massacred dozens of villagers during World War II, as part of a three-day visit to the country combining talks with politicians with efforts to bring closure to the wounds from the German wartime occupation of Greece. Anti-German sentiment has increased in Greece in recent years, as Germany has been one of the most ardent proponents of austerity measures imposed in return for billions of euros in rescue loans. Germany is the largest single contributor to Greece's bailout. SENT: 350 words.

BRITAIN-UNEARTHING WWI

GOSPORT, England — Two lines of trenches face off across No Man's Land. A soldier marches, rifle in hand, along a ditch. These are instantly familiar images of World War I — but this is Britain, a century on and an English Channel away from the battlefields of the Western Front. This overgrown and oddly corrugated patch of heathland on England's south coast was once a practice battlefield, complete with trenches, weapons and barbed wire. Thousands of troops trained here to take on the German army. After the 1918 victory — which cost 1 million Britons their lives — the site was forgotten, until it was recently rediscovered by a local official with an interest in military history. By Jill Lawless. SENT: 800 words, photos.

EURO

LONDON — The euro has hit its highest level against the dollar for nearly two and a half years in the wake of the European Central Bank's decision not to cut interest rates further. Up 0.3 percent on Friday at $1.3917, the euro is at its highest level since it struck $1.4170 in October 2011. Europe's single currency has been steadily rising since the summer of 2012, when ECB President Mario Draghi said he would do "whatever it takes" to save the euro. SENT: 130 words.