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Alaa Mohammed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- As the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was accused of another chemical weapons attack, the Trump administration is trying to rally international condemnation of the regime and increase pressure on Russia to rein in its ally.

But more than nine months after President Trump ordered airstrikes on a Syrian air base after it deployed chemical weapons, yet another use of the internationally-banned weapons would be a sign of how intractable the conflict has become and how little influence the U.S. has to shape events in the country.

According to activists and rescue teams, Assad's government launched an attack with suspected poisonous gas that affected at least 20 civilians in a rebel-held suburb near Damascus, the Associated Press reported.

The area, known as eastern Ghouta, is an enclave of rebel support in a part of the country that Assad has long dominated during the country's near seven-year-old war. It has been under siege by the Assad regime for years now, but despite a ceasefire agreed to over the summer, the regime has starved and bombed the area for the past few months. In recent weeks, that bombing campaign escalated, according to monitoring groups.

Amid these latest allegations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in France to launch the "International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons" Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The new 29-nation group is meant to increase pressure on the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons, but especially on Russia for protecting the regime from repercussions at the UN Security Council and elsewhere.

"Let’s be clear: Russia’s unwillingness or inability to restrain the Assad regime is costing innocent Syrian lives. We’ve been firm in our determination to hold parties accountable for the use of chemical weapons, which have killed far too many Syrians," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert tweeted Monday.

The new partnership will unveil a series of commitments "aimed at strengthening their cooperation in the fight against impunity for those who use or develop chemical weapons," according to the French Foreign Ministry, including collecting, sharing. and publicizing information about chemical attack perpetrators.

"Russia has failed to rid Syria of chemical weapons, and they've been blocking chemical weapons organizations. Enough is enough," Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs Steve Goldstein told reporters Monday.

But less than a week ago in a major policy speech, Tillerson said that the U.S. airstrikes last April on Assad's airbase were meant "to dissuade the Syrian regime from further use or proliferation of chemical weapons." On his flight back to Washington afterwards, he also told ABC News the U.S. and Syria were "very well aligned" in Syria and their end goals there.

"That's why we're disappointed with the Foreign Minister's comments," Goldstein said, a reference to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accusing the U.S. of fomenting unrest and instability in Syria and even supporting al Qaeda-linked militants. "The Secretary is very unhappy that Russia has not stepped up to the plate as we would expect them to," Goldstein added.

To critics, Russian intransigence and stalwart support for Assad are a reality that the administration should have seen earlier. "Russia has fooled the U.S. again in Syria," the Washington Post editorial board warned in a recent headline.

Either way, it's unclear how another international group or more public statements from the U.S. will change the situation on the ground, especially as Assad's forces continue to regain territory. As Tillerson said in that speech last week, the regime now controls about half of the country's population and territory, thanks in large part to Russian support.

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Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality TV star-turned-journalist running against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the country's election this year, has gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot, her campaign said Monday.

In a post on its website, Sobchak’s campaign said she had obtained over 101,000 signatures, putting her around 10,000 over the threshold required to be registered as a candidate by Russia’s central election commission.

It means that Sobchak, who is the daughter of Putin’s political mentor and has sometimes been described as "Russia’s Paris Hilton," will almost certainly be on the ballot when Russians go to the polls on March 18.

Her regional campaign director, Timur Valeyev, told the local newspaper RBC that the campaign will continue collecting signatures in case any are rejected as fake.

Sobchak's registration adds a showbiz name to a list of otherwise familiar veteran candidates running against Putin, who is seeking another six-year term after 18 years in power.

Putin, who has marginalized all serious opposition to his rule, is widely expected to win without difficulty against the challengers, who critics of the Russian president say have only been allowed to take part to give the illusion of competition.

On Sunday, Putin’s campaign said it had halted signature collection for his candidacy after it reached half a million.

Sobchak herself has said she is not seeking to beat Putin, but rather pursuing a controversial protest campaign to highlight official corruption and the lack of political freedom in Russia. Sobchak, one of Russia's best-known celebrities who several years ago reinvented herself as a successful liberal journalist, has called on Russia’s beleaguered liberal opposition to unite around her as its only substantial representative allowed to run, after its most popular leader, Alexey Navalny, was barred.

Her candidacy has instead, however, provoked an increasingly acrimonious schism among the opposition, with many in it accusing her of doing the Kremlin’s bidding, willing or otherwise. Critics have called her a spoiler meant to provide Putin with a safe liberal opponent to face off against and to divide the anti-Kremlin vote.

Ahead of her candidacy, leaks from Putin's presidential administration to a leading business newspaper Vedomosti suggested the Kremlin considered her an "ideal candidate" to spice up the race against Putin. Skeptics also note the absence of the usual harassment faced by Putin critics. Navalny is regularly arrested and his campaign events disrupted. Sobchak, by contrast, has been given time on state media, where opposition figures normally face a blackout.

Criticism of Sobchak has intensified since Navalny was blocked from the elections. In December, Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has built up a large grassroots following, was refused registration by the election commission. He was barred because of a fraud conviction that Navalny says is politically motivated, a claim backed by the European Court of Human Rights, which called his trial “arbitrary.”

After being blocked, Navalny called for a general boycott of the election and said Sobchak should withdraw.

Sobchak, who had previously offered to withdraw if Navalny was allowed on the ballot, has rejected a boycott, arguing it will be ineffective because it would be impossible to tell who stayed away in protest and who simply out of apathy.

The disagreement is increasingly pushing the two candidates into open confrontation. Navalny's campaign had already indicated it considered Sobchak's candidacy a Kremlin ploy, but both sides have previously sought to avoid publicly quarreling, believing it only aids the authorities. Still, the strains have begun to show.

In a video calling for the boycott, Navalny criticized the other candidates as only those who Putin “has personally chosen and who do not represent even the smallest threat to him and who aren’t running actual campaigns.”

Sobchak has been assiduously courteous to Navalny, regularly asserting his primacy within the opposition. But she has said the opposition ought to back the candidate able to run. After he was refused registration, she called on Navalny to join her campaign.

“I understand how insulting and difficult it is for Alexey, but the common good is more important,” Sobchak wrote in a post on her Instagram account.

But the dispute slid into public acrimony last week when Navalny's supporters suggested on social media that Sobchak appeared to have been at a party with a Russian billionaire on the Pacific island of Bali, instead of gathering signatures for her campaign. When Sobchak disputed the claims, Navalny’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, suggested on Twitter that Sobchak had lied.

In response, Sobchak burst into a studio at a liberal radio station where Volkov was giving an interview last Monday. With two camera people in tow, Sobchak accused Volkov of lying about her and demanded an apology. Volkov refused and asked her to leave.

In a blog post after the fracas, Volkov accused Sobchak directly of being part of a “game of the presidential administration” and said Navalny’s campaign had no desire to be “dragged into” debates with her.

Putin “is our main opponent,” Volkov wrote. “As for the other participants of this show, we will, of course, talk about them. But only when their actions become maximum shameful.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- A North Korean delegation arriving in South Korea ahead of the Winter Olympics was met with dozens of protesters burning a banner image of leader Kim Jong Un.

The delegation was led by North Korean celebrity Hyon Song Wol of the Moranbong band, an all-female music group whose members are reportedly handpicked by the supreme leader.

Hyon is rumored to have had a past relationship with Kim, which is vigorously denied by officials.

She is in charge of the North’s artistic performances during the Winter Olympic Games, and is in Seoul to inspect musical venues.

As she and the delegation arrived at a Seoul train station before boarding a bus to the sites, around 50 protesters shouted slogans against North Korea and waved South Korean and American flags as she passed.

Later the activists stomped on images of Kim Jong Un and set their banners on fire, which was extinguished by police.

The protests are an indication of the mixed response in South Korea to the decision to unite North and South Korean teams, with athletes marching together under a unified flag and with the two countries fielding a joint team to compete in women’s ice hockey.

While most South Koreans support the North’s participation in the Games, conservatives in the South condemn the moves as an appeasement to Kim Jong Un.

The leader of the main conservative party in South Korea, Hong Joon-pyo, denounced the unity flag last week, saying, “We are dancing to the tune of Kim Jong Un’s disguised peace offensive.”

The Moranbong band members, a mix of vocalists and musicians, are all former military officers and often wear military costumes whilst singing patriotic songs about the North Korean state and in particular the supreme leader.

In July 2017 the regime held a concert celebrating the alleged launch of the state's first intercontinental ballistic missile launch -- with Moranbong the headline act.

Rumors about the band went into overdrive in 2013 when some North Korean outlets reported that members -- including Hyon Song Wol -- were executed for purportedly taking part in raunchy videos that violated the North's strict anti-pornography laws.

The regime fiercely denied the reports, and Hyon Song Wol made a prompt public appearance following the rumors.

The band's heavy involvement with regime propaganda has made Hyon's involvement in the artistic elements of the games a divisive topic.

The Pyeongchang Olympics are scheduled to begin in early February with more than 90 nations participating.

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istock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- At least six civilians and five gunmen are dead following an 11-hour siege Saturday of the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, according to the country's interior ministry.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The terror group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told ABC News that six people were also injured: three police officers and three civilians.

 Following the siege, Afghan special forces searched room-by-room to ensure that all of the attackers had been accounted for.

Danish said 153 hotel guests and staff, including 8 foreigners, were rescued.

An official at the U.S. Department of State told ABC News they “are monitoring the situation and are in contact with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens have been affected.”

 The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert Saturday, saying a "series of explosions" erupted at the Intercontinental Hotel around 9 p.m. local time.

"The attack is reported to be ongoing at this time. Afghan authorities have announced they are reacting to the incident and a heightened police presence throughout the city is expected," the embassy stated.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had issued a previous security alert Thursday, saying it was "aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels" in the capital city.



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iStock/Thinkstock(ABUJA, Nigeria) -- Two Americans and two Canadians who were kidnapped by gunmen in northern Nigeria earlier this week have been rescued, police said.

The foreigners -- three men and a woman -- were rescued early Saturday in the Jere area of the Kagarko local government area of Kaduna state after a massive police manhunt, Kaduna state police spokesman Mukhtar Aliyu told ABC News.

They have been transported to Nigeria's capital, Abuja. All four were said to be in fairly good condition, Aliyu said.

Kaduna state police commissioner Agyole Abeh told ABC News that no ransom was paid for the foreigners' release. A suspect has been arrested in connection to their abduction, he added.

Police officers were escorting the four foreigners through Kaduna state on Tuesday night when they were ambushed on a roadway in Kagarko. A gun fight ensued between the police officers and the attackers. Two policemen were killed and another was wounded.

The gunmen abducted the foreigners and took off, according to Aliyu.

The foreigners had visited Kafanchan and Kaura in Kaduna state and were heading back to Abuja at the time of the ambush.

When asked for comment Saturday, an official at the U.S. Department of State told ABC News, "We are aware of reports of two U.S. citizens kidnapped and released in Nigeria. The safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas are among our top priorities. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment."

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Elizabeth Reid told ABC News the Canadian government had received confirmation that two of their nationals were freed from their captors in Nigeria.

"We are very pleased that all individuals involved have been released and are safe," Reid said. "Canadian officials worked closely with Nigerian government officials on the ground to ensure the best possible outcome."

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Photodisc/Thinkstock(RATON, N.M.) -- A key Zimbabwe opposition leader was killed Wednesday night in a helicopter crash in the United States, authorities said.

Roy Bennett, an outspoken critic of longtime Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign in late November, died when a helicopter crashed in a remote area of northeastern New Mexico, according to the New Mexico State Police.

Bennett, 60, had left Zimbabwe under Mugabe's rule for exile in South Africa, but continued to be a fierce opponent of the president. He was listed by New Mexico State Police as a resident of Colorado and South Africa. It's unclear why he was in New Mexico.

His wife, 55-year-old Heather Bennett, also died in the crash, along with the pilot, the co-pilot and 61-year-old Texas investor Charles Ryland Burnett, police said.

One unidentified passenger who sustained serious injuries in the crash was expected to survive, police said. The survivor called 911 to report the incident around 6 p.m. local time Wednesday, but the exact location of the crash was uncertain.

Authorities searching for the crash site spotted wreckage on a rancher's property east of Raton, where a grass fire believed to have been caused by the downed helicopter had burned approximately a 1-mile radius around the crash, according to police.

Apart from the survivor who dialed 911, first responders found two men alive but in critical condition. One of them died at the scene a short time later, and the other succumbed to injuries while being airlifted to a hospital. The three other people aboard the downed helicopter were found dead at the scene upon arrival, police said.

The limited flight data available indicated the privately owned Huey Bell UH-1 helicopter was traveling from Raton to Folsom, police said. But the nature of the flight and the cause of the crash is unknown. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Bennett, who was born in Zimbabwe, was a founding member of the Zimbabwean opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. He had previously been a commercial farmer in the mountainous Chimanimani region, according to party spokesman Obert Chaurura Gutu.

Although he was white, Bennett was known among many black Zimbabweans as "Pachedu," which means "one of us" in Zimbabwe's Shona language. Bennett spoke the native language fluently, Gutu said.

"His work with the local farming communities in Chimanimani district is very well-documented, and he was also a renowned philanthropist who assisted hundreds of local villagers with school fees for their children and other necessary requirements to look after their families," Gutu said in a statement released to the media on Friday.

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moodboard/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 miles of Scarborough Shoal, a small uninhabited reef in the South China Sea claimed by China and the Philippines, according to a U.S. official. China's Foreign Ministry accused the United States of trespassing through its territorial waters.

The USS Hopper carried out an "innocent passage" within 12 miles of Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday evening, said a U.S. official. The guided missile destroyer was shadowed during the operation by a Chinese Navy ship.

The U.S. official described the Hopper’s patrol as an "innocent passage" and not a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) under the strict legal definition, but "the message was the same."

Under international law, a nation's territorial waters extend 12 miles from its shoreline.

Barely above sea level, the chain of reefs and rocks is located 120 miles west of the Philippines and is claimed by China and the Philippines. Since 2012, Chinese government ships have turned away Philippine fishing vessels near the rich fishing grounds surrounding the shoal.

In 2016, an international court at The Hague ruled against China’s claim to Scarborough Shoal in a case filed by the Philippines.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Hopper had sailed within its 12-mile territorial limit "without gaining permission from the Chinese government."

"What the U.S. vessel did violated China's sovereignty and security interests, put the safety of Chinese vessels and personnel who were in the relevant waters for official duties under grave threat, and contravened the basic norms for international relations," the statement added.

"China is strongly dissatisfied with that and will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty," said the statement.

The U.S. Navy has previously conducted FONOPs in the South China Sea through other disputed island chains claimed by China, including the Spratleys and the Paracels. Pentagon officials stressed that FONOPs are conducted worldwide and are intended to demonstrate freedom of navigation through international waters.

"The United States conducts routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future," said Lt. Commander Nicole Schwegman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.

"We have a comprehensive FONOP program under which U.S. forces challenge excessive maritime claims across the globe to demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. FONOPs are not about any one country, nor are they about making political statements. FONOPS are designed to comply with international law and not threaten the lawful security interest of coastal states."

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iStock/Thinkstock(DAVOS, Switzerland) --  Next week thousands of the world’s richest and most powerful players will gather in the tiny Swiss town of Davos.

Each year the town high in the Alps hosts the World Economic Forum, attended by global political and business leaders, philanthropists, celebrities and media.

It is a gathering epitomizing and promoting the global elite that President Trump has railed against throughout his presidency so far.

So it took the world by surprise when Mr Trump announced he would be attending the summit this year.

The message for the 2018 forum is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” and strong calls for global cooperation are likely to be focused on issues such as climate change and global instability.

Who is going?

A record 70 heads of state or government are said to be participating in Davos 2018, with the higher attendance possibly sparked by curiosity over what message President Trump will bring to the conference, giving the closing speech on the 26th.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is giving the opening address on Tuesday, and France’s Emmanuel Macron will also deliver a speech on the same day.

Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu will also attend. Celebrities Cate Blanchett and Elton John are to receive awards in the Davos Arts and Culture award ceremony.

What to look out for

Many will be watching closely for signals from the U.S. president at the forum.

As well as the keynote speeches, there will be bilateral meetings and backdoor diplomacy on the sidelines between world leaders.

Trump is reportedly planning on meeting with Macron. The French leader is increasingly emerging as the stable face of Europe, over German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is struggling to form a government.

Meanwhile in the U.K., embattled Prime Minister Theresa May is suffering a humiliating snub by President Trump – for the second time in a month. After the president's recently canceling plans to visit the U.K. for the opening of the new American embassy in London, the White House has said Trump will have no time at Davos to meet with May.

Competing narratives

With the U.S. under Trump appearing to be rowing back from taking a leadership role in a globalized world and Britain's deciding to leave the European Union, the EU is increasingly stepping in to fill the void. It is championing the need for an international response to climate change and working to keep in place the Iran nuclear agreement.

Macron will likely emphasize this in his speech, extolling the virtues of global cooperation and projecting confidence in the EU as a rising financial and political power.

However, it is President Trump who is expected to be the headline act this year.

At his last address to a major gathering of world players at the UN General Assembly in September last year, he gave a vigorous defense of American sovereignty and warned that the U.S. would no longer make any more deals that were not in its own interest.

Headlines were dominated by his threat to “totally destroy North Korea,” referring to its leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man”.

Will there be a showdown?

While Macron is likely to make a strong speech promoting his competing political agenda, he has gone out of his way to forge a diplomatic working relationship with Trump, throwing a highly successful and lavish state visit at the Elysee Palace for him last year. It’s unlikely the two will directly spar.

Last year President Xi Jinping dominated at Davos – it was the first attendance of any Chinese president at the forum in its 48-year history.

He delivered a strong message for global unity and cooperation over protectionism, seemingly aimed at the U.S. president-elect who had been threatening to slap heavy tariffs on Chinese goods.

Xi will not be attending this year, perhaps averting what could have been a clash between the two competing superpowers that together account for about 40 percent of the world economy.

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ABC News(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- On the outskirts of Riyadh, at an amusement park on the edge of the desert, there it was: rap music. It’s all part of the sweeping changes being unleashed in Saudi Arabia by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“MbS” as everyone calls him).

Since he was catapulted to power with the support of his father, the king, MbS has thrown open the gates to a new, more liberal era for this strategically crucial country, one of the most important allies of the United States.

He’s declared he wants to restore a “moderate Islam, open to the world” in Saudi Arabia. He’s pushed to (finally) allow women to drive, beginning this June. He’s cleared the way for movie theaters to reopen for the first time in 35 years.

And, once again, you can hear music in public in this country, including rap.

Not everyone approves. Saudi Arabia is still a profoundly conservative country. But it is also a country where about 70 percent of the people are younger than 30 years old.

Times change. Youth will be served. Even in Saudi Arabia.

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ABC News(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- This June, for the first time ever, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive.

In this deeply conservative country, which for decades has officially embraced and enforced a strict, all-encompassing version of Islam, the image of a woman behind the wheel, driving herself wherever she chooses, with no man accompanying her, was seen by many as scandalous, even sacrilegious.

Many other Saudis saw the restriction on women drivers as backwards and embarrassing. And now -- they can’t wait to hit the roads.

Some are already practicing, as we found out, in go-karts.

On the edge of the desert outside Riyadh, we found a go-kart track where girls and women zoom around, passing older drivers (like me), spinning out around the curves, enjoying the feeling of speed and power -- even in a little 6-horsepower go-kart.

They’re having a blast. And they are part of a revolutionary era here.

The plan to lift the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia is led by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“MbS” as everyone calls him).

Since he was catapulted to power with the support of his father, the king, MbS has thrown open the gates to a new, more liberal era for this strategically crucial country, one of the most important allies of the United States.

So amid all the laughter and competition around that track, you could feel the change that is coming to Saudi Arabia -- fast.

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ABC News(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- A baby was killed and 15 people were injured -- including more children -- after a car crashed into pedestrians along a beach walk in Brazil, according to media reports and local authorities.

An 8-month-old baby was killed in the accident, according to Reuters and Brazilian TV network Globo, citing police.

The driver is suspected to have suffered some kind of epileptic attack, according to the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro State. The accident is not thought to be terror-related, officials said.

Video out of Rio de Janeiro shows people strewn about the sand after the accident.

First responders were seen tending to the injured, who were surrounded by a crowd of onlookers after the accident. The extent of the injuries is unknown.

A small black car was seen with its hood lifted as authorities investigated the scene.

It's the run-up to Carnival season, so beaches are more crowded than normal with tourists.



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gabriel__bostan/iStock/Thinkstock(DELHI, India) -- State-run schools in India's capital, Delhi, will soon provide a live feed of classrooms parents access on their mobile phones, on the heels of serious crimes alleged to have been committed against students.

The goal, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal said, is to "make the whole system transparent and accountable" and ensure the children's safety.

Parents will be able to watch their children at school on a real-time basis, through a feed from closed-circuit TV cameras that will be installed in all classrooms and other spaces at government-run schools, Kejriwal said in a tweet.

The process to install CCTV cameras would start in three months, The Hindustan Times reported, and the government is still developing the mobile app that will stream the live feed.

The government said it plans to include a complaint feature in the mobile app, so if parents spot anything wrong, they can use it to report the activity.

The affected schools cater to children between the ages of 3 and 16 years old.

Many parents have expressed support of the move on social media, after a young child was found with his throat slit in a school bathroom and the alleged rape of a five-year old girl in another school.

However, critics say that having the city's children and teachers under constant surveillance may not help the situation and is unfair, and it will likely be used as a disciplinary tool.

Thousands of schools in China have already installed webcams in classrooms, from kindergarten to college. But after a critical article in the New York Times reported on them, several schools halted the broadcasts.

The Telegraph reported last year that teachers in at least two English schools had been using body cameras, similar to those worn by police, to control student’s behavior.

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TongRo Images Inc/Thinkstock(BALLINA, Australia) -- In what’s being billed as the world’s first, a drone helped to rescue two swimmers today caught in the surf off an Australian beach.

Gabe Vidler and Monty Greeslade, both 17, were body-surfing in the Pacific Ocean at Lennox Beach, north of Ballina, at about 11:30 a.m. local time when they began to struggle with strong currents and 10-foot waves, 9News of Australia reported.

Friends on the beach alerted lifeguards, who had been conducting a training exercise using the drone, according to 9News.

"We noticed we were being pulled really fast. One of our other friends called the lifeguard," Vidler told 9News. At first Vidler and Greeslade thought the drone was a shark, but when they saw the inflatable pod they grabbed on and were pulled to shore.

The struggling swimmers were located within minutes and the drone, recording every second, dropped an inflatable pod into the water, New South Wales Surf Life Saving said in a statement.

“I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes,” Jai Sheridan, the lifeguard piloting the drone, said in the statement. “On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public.”

The drone, known officially as the Little Ripper, is part of a new generation of search-and-rescue technology made by the Westpac Little Ripper group in which the Australian state of New South Wales has invested to help protect its beaches, according to Surf Life Saving.

Both teenagers reportedly suffered no injuries in the incident, apart from showing signs of fatigue.



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ABC News(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- Thursday morning Pope Francis married a couple on board his flight from the Chilean capital, Santiago, to the northern coastal town of Iquiqe, where he was headed to celebrate a large open-air mass.

It is the first time a pope has celebrated a wedding during a flight, according to the Vatican.

Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriga, 41, and Paula Podest Ruiz, 39, both flight attendants, met 8 years ago. They were married in a civil ceremony in 2010, but were unable to have a Catholic wedding in their parish church because it collapsed in the 2010 earthquake. They have two children.

The couple were introduced to the Pope on the plane and asked if he would bless their marriage. Instead, he asked them if they wanted him to perform their religious marriage. They said they were surprised, but agreed immediately.

The event was "unexpected," Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters who were travelling on the plane with the Pope to his next destination.

The brief ceremony took place at the front of the plane and the official witness was an airline executive and a Chilean bishop, also on board the flight, signed the document to make it valid.

After the ceremony, the couple told the journalists on the plane, "It was very moving. We can’t believe the pope married us! Marriage works...we hope it will promote marriage."

The couple both work for Latam, the Latin American airline based in Chile.

Late Thursday the Pope is scheduled to fly to the capitol city of Peru, Lima. The pontiff's visit to Peru will last through Sunday.
 
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iStock/Thinkstock(KALYBAI, Kazakhstan) -- At least 52 people died when their moving bus caught fire in Kazakhstan Thursday in one of the region’s deadliest bus accidents in years.

All the victims are believed to be Uzbek migrant workers on their way to the city of Kazan in Russia, a Kazakh emergency ministry official told ABC News. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic.

Five people survived the blaze, the ministry said, which was near the village of Kalybai.

Two of the survivors suffered burns to their hands, while the others had minor injuries, emergency services officials said. Three survivors were Kazakh drivers, taking turns at the wheel, and the two others were Uzbek passengers, the officials said.

The bus burst into flames before fire quickly tore through the vehicle, killing the 52 people before they could flee after the bus stopped, an emergency ministry official said, declining to give her name.

Both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s emergency services ministry said they have opened a hotline.

The incident occurred around 10:30 a.m. local time, the emergency ministry said in a statement.

The bus was traveling from the tiny town of Zibek in Kazakhstan’s southern Saragaiski region to Kazan, Russia, an 1,800-mile route often used by migrant workers heading for jobs on construction sites in Russia.

The bus, manufactured in 1989, was registered in Kazakhstan, most likely as a private transporter, Yerbolat Sakulov, a senior official in the Kazakh ministry of interior, said. “We are checking all our registries, to see if he had a transportation license,” Sakulov said.

But he provided no details on the cause of the fire. “It’s too early to talk about the reasons for the fire; it just happened this morning,” Sakulov told ABC News. “There is an investigation going on.”

Thursday’s fire highlights the risk of passenger transport in the region. In October of last year, for instance, a Kazakh-registered bus with Uzbek passengers was hit by a train in Russia after it broke down on the tracks, killing 19 people aboard the bus.

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