MOSCOW — Syria's foreign minister said Friday that his country is prepared to implement a cease-fire in the war-torn city of Aleppo and exchange detainees with the country's opposition forces as confidence building measures ahead of a peace conference opening next week in Switzerland. Walid al-Moallem told journalists about the cease-fire plan after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Al-Moallem did not divulge details of the plan, which would contain "measures to enforce security" in Aleppo, 190 miles (310 km) from the Syrian capital. By Laura Mills. SENT: 370 words.


KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian leaders are under fire from the West for passing sweeping anti-protest laws amid anti-government demonstrations that have rocked Kiev for nearly two months. Despite noisy protests from the opposition, the Ukrainian parliament, dominated by President Viktor Yanukovych's loyalists, passed a flurry of legislation Thursday that significantly curbs the rights to protest, free speech and the activity of non-governmental organizations. SENT: 140 words, photos.


PARIS — France's unmarried president — and the reported love triangle involving the companion he installed into the Elysee palace and a French actress supposedly down the street — have led the country into a delicate debate over whether it needs a first lady at all. Many countries lack official status for the spouse or companion of a leader, turning up some complicated situations, even when the public is willing to turn a blind eye. By Lori Hinnant. SENT: 730 words, photos.


EINDHOVEN, Netherlands — Let the robot race begin. Expectations are high for RoboEarth, a new European-funded system to speed the development of human-serving robots. Scientists from five major European technical universities have gathered in the Netherlands this week for its launch and to demonstrate possible applications. The first: the deceptively simple task of delivering a glass of milk to a patient in a mock-up hospital room. By Toby Sterling. SENT: 680 words, photos.


DERYNEIA, Cyprus — Time virtually stopped in 1974 for the Mediterranean tourist playground of Varosha. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece, thousands of residents fled, and chain-link fences enclosed a glamorous resort that it's said once played host to Hollywood royalty like Elizabeth Taylor. The town's crumbling, war-scarred beachfront hotels have become an emblem of the country's division between Turks and Greeks. In 40 years, few have set foot inside the town, which remains heavily guarded by the Turkish army and twists of barbed wire. By Menelaos Hadjicostis. SENT: 810 words, photos.


LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter Zara Phillips has given birth to a baby girl, Buckingham Palace said Friday. The child is 16th in line to the British throne. The baby was born at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in western England and weighed 7 pounds, 12 ounces (3.5 kilograms). The palace said her name would be released "in due course." SENT: 160 words, photos.




AMSTERDAM — Royal Dutch Shell PLC issued a profit warning for the fourth quarter on Friday, saying results will be worse than most analysts expected due to lower production, higher costs, and a worse performance by its refining division. The company, which has underperformed other major oil producers in the past year, said it expected net profit of $1.8 billion (1.32 billion euros) for the quarter, down from $6.7 billion in the same period of 2012. By Toby Sterling. SENT: 590 words.

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LONDON — U.K. retail sales jumped more than expected during the crucial Christmas period despite poor weather before the holiday. The Office of National Statistics says retail sales leapt by 2.6 percent during December compared with the previous month. Economists had predicted a rise of 0.2 percent. SENT: 130 words.


PARIS — France's government, under EU pressure to control public finances, says the deficit last year was bigger than expected because of anemic growth. The finance ministry released figures showing a 74.9 billion-euro ($102 billion) deficit, compared with 62.3 billion euros initially forecast. That's down from 2012 but shrinking "slower than we had wished," Budget Minister Caseneuve said Friday. He didn't give a percentage. SENT: 130 words.