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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 south-western fringe of the Spratlys, is completely submerged at high tide but has a lighthouse and an outpost housing a small contingent of Vietnamese soldiers.

Iraqi troops retreat after Mosul hospital battle

By Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Hameed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi troops who seized a hospital deep inside Mosul believed to be used as an Islamic State military base have retreated after a fierce counter-attack, giving up some of their biggest gains in a hard-fought seven-week campaign to recapture the city. The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (1.5 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were hit by six suicide car bombs and "heavy enemy fire", according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces. Coalition warplanes, at Iraq's request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

Rebels seek ceasefire with Syrian army closer to retaking Aleppo

By Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels in besieged eastern Aleppo called on Wednesday for an immediate five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians and wounded, but gave no indication they were ready to withdraw as demanded by Damascus and Moscow. The Syrian army and allied forces have made rapid gains against insurgents in the past two weeks and look closer than ever to restoring full control over Aleppo, Syria's most populous city before the war, and achieving their most important victory of the conflict now in its sixth year. In a statement calling for the truce, the rebels made no mention of evacuating the several thousand fighters who are defending an ever shrinking area of eastern Aleppo.

South Korea parliament introduces bill to impeach Park; vote due Friday

By Ju-min Park and Jack Kim SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's parliament introduced a bill on Thursday to impeach President Park Geun-hye, setting the stage for a historic vote to oust the embattled leader engulfed in an influence-peddling scandal. Parliament is expected to vote on Friday in favour of impeachment, although the Constitutional Court must decide whether to uphold the motion, a process that could take up to 180 days. Opposition parties have said they believe they will get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill, with support from about 30 members of Park's conservative Saenuri Party to secure the necessary 200 votes.

British spy chief says Islamic State plotting attacks as Russia makes 'desert' of Syria

Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria are plotting attacks against the United Kingdom and her allies as Russia tries to destroy President Bashar al-Assad's opponents by making a desert out of the country, Britain's foreign intelligence chief said. In his first major public speech since winning the top job at the Secret Intelligence Service in 2014, Alex Younger said the United Kingdom was facing an unprecedented threat from terrorism including 12 foiled plots since June 2013.

Chinese cardinal says Vatican must stand up to Beijing

By Pak Yiu and Lisa Jucca HONG KONG (Reuters) - Cardinal Joseph Zen, the most senior Chinese Catholic cleric, says the participation of an excommunicated prelate at two bishop ordinations in China was a "slap in the face" for Pope Francis just as Rome seeks a historic deal with Beijing. Bishop Lei Shiyin, who was excommunicated by the Vatican in 2011 for accepting his appointment without papal approval, took part in the ordinations of new bishops in the cities of Chengdu and Xichang, in southwestern China, last week. While the Catholic priests selected to be bishops enjoyed the backing of both Rome and Beijing, the active participation of the excommunicated Lei was an act of defiance by Beijing, Zen said in an interview with Reuters.

EU unblocks visa-free travel for Ukraine, Georgia

By Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will allow Ukrainians and Georgians to visit the bloc without a visa after diplomats and lawmakers struck a deal on Thursday to end an internal EU dispute that had been holding up the plan. Agreement on a mechanism for suspending such visa waivers in emergencies ends mounting embarrassment for some EU leaders who felt the bloc was reneging on pledges to ex-Soviet states it has promised to help as they try to move away from Moscow's orbit. EU leaders got cold feet about opening doors to more nations after a public backlash that followed last year's influx of more than a million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa into Europe.

Brussels says Greece should take back some asylum-seekers from March

By Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU states should be permitted to send some asylum-seekers back to Greece from March, the bloc's executive said on Thursday as it looks to restore a common policy on migration that collapsed last year under a mass influx of refugees. Under EU rules, the first country of entry should handle an asylum-seeker's claim, but that system broke down in 2015 when Greece was overwhelmed by the arrival on its shores of most of the more than 1 million people who entered Europe. Athens let many of them pass through unprocessed.

EU takes legal action against Germany, UK over Volkswagen scandal

By Alissa de Carbonnel BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union started legal action on Thursday against seven countries including Germany and Britain for failing to police emissions test cheating by carmakers after the Volkswagen scandal. Amid mounting frustration in Brussels over what it sees as governments colluding with the powerful car industry, the European Commission is wielding the biggest stick it has - potentially ending in court - to try to force nations to clamp down on diesel cars spewing health-harming pollution. German officials - who say EU law is poorly framed - had been skeptical Brussels would take on the EU's leading power and by far its biggest carmaker at a time when the unity of the bloc is being challenged by eurosceptics and Britain's vote to leave.

Rights group says US may be complicit in Yemen 'atrocities'

CAIRO (AP) ? Human Rights Watch is calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen, and says the United States might be complicit in "atrocities" there.

Hungary's leader urges Hungarian minority to vote in Romania

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) ? Hungary's prime minister is urging the Hungarian minority in Romania to vote in Sunday's parliamentary election there and "speak up for their own interests."

The Latest: ECB says stimulus extension to support economy

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) ? The Latest on the European Central Bank's policy meeting (all times local):

England's Keaton Jennings scores debut ton in 4th India Test

Keaton Jennings scored a "dream" century on his debut as England made a solid start to their must-win fourth Test against India in Mumbai on Thursday. Jennings was dropped before he had scored and took until his 12th ball to get off the mark but once he opened his account he batted fluently. Jennings, who was only called up to the squad after Haseeb Hameed was injured in the third Test, hit 13 fours, including a trio of audacious reverse sweeps during his 219-ball stay at the crease.

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