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World Briefs: Al Qaeda says it killed American for proselytizing

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YEMEN

SANAA — Al Qaeda's Yemen branch said Thursday that it killed an American teacher because he was trying to spread Christianity in the mainly Muslim Arab nation.

Joel Shrum, 39, a native of Mount Joy, Pa., was gunned down Sunday in the central city of Taiz, where he had been living with his wife and two sons. He was studying Arabic and teaching English at a language institute.

The claim of responsibility, which was posted on a militant website, comes as the terror network increasingly has sought to exploit the political turmoil in the Arab world's most impoverished nation.

"It was God's gift for the mujahedeen to kill the American Joel Shrum who was actively proselytizing under the cover of teaching in Taiz," said the statement by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the terror network's Yemen branch is formally known.

The slain teacher had worked at the International Training and Development Center, which was established in the 1970s and is one of the oldest foreign language institutes in Yemen.

VATICAN CITY

Vatican: Pope's Cuba trip should help democracy effort

The Vatican's No. 2 has dismissed suggestions that Cuba's Communist government could exploit Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip as a propaganda tool, saying the visit should help promote democracy on the island.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, said that he expects an outpouring of support for the pope because he is the head of the Catholic Church, and that the visit will only make things better for the Cuban church.

"I don't believe the visit will be exploited by the government," Cardinal Bertone told the Turin daily La Stampa in an interview published Thursday. "In fact, I think the government and Cuban people will do their utmost to welcome the pope and show him the esteem and trust that the leader of the Catholic Church deserves."

Benedict, 84, leaves Friday for a six-day trip that will take him first to Mexico, then to Cuba on Monday.

It is Benedict's first trip to Spanish-speaking Latin America, and Pope John Paul II's shadow will be looming large, given his five visits to Mexico, which claimed the Polish pope as its own, and his historic 1998 trip to Cuba.

SYRIA

Clashes rage across Syria despite U.N. statement

BEIRUT — Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition areas and clashed with rebel fighters around the country Thursday despite U.N. efforts to stop the bloodshed so aid could reach suffering civilians.

Activists cited the fresh violence in dismissing a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue on a political solution.

The government of President Bashar Assad also played down the statement, saying Damascus is under no threats or ultimatums.

Mounting international condemnation of Mr. Assad's regime and high-level diplomacy have failed to ease the year-old Syria conflict, which the U.N. says has killed more than 8,000 people.

Activists reported dozens of people killed Thursday, including at least 12 government soldiers.

EUROPEAN UNION

Defense ministers back pooling of resources

BRUSSELS — European Union defense ministers on Thursday endorsed projects to develop joint air-to-air refueling capacities and field hospitals as part of a wider effort to share military resources in response to falling defense budgets.

The ministers also discussed the implications of a U.S decision to refocus its strategy on regions other than Europe.

Claude-France Arnould, who heads the EU's European Defense Agency, said that in addition to approving the joint field hospitals and the air-to-air refueling initiative - which aims at increasing strategic tanker capacity and achieving greater cost-effectiveness by 2020 - ministers considered other ways to promote savings.

The areas discussed included joint pilot training, naval logistics, maritime patrols, maintenance and shared infrastructure, she said.

"A major impulse has been given," Ms. Arnould said, adding that the ministers had agreed on the need to develop a defense capability collectively.

The EU's 27 governments still spend about $265 billion on defense annually; only the United States spends more.

But the fragmentation of military commands and defense industries has made it almost impossible to achieve economies of scale in purchasing military equipment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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