BRAZIL
12 killed as police battle bank robbers

At least 12 people, including two children, were killed Friday when police engaged in a shootout with bank robbers, according to authorities in northeastern Brazil.

The two attempted heists in Ceara state began around 2:30 a.m. in the downtown area of the city of Milagres, police said in a statement.

News portal G1 reported that the robbers blocked off a road into the downtown and took hostages as they began entering two banks on the same street. When police responded, a firefight ensued, leading to several deaths.

Lielson Macedo Landim, the mayor of Milagres, told G1 the hostages were executed by the attackers and not killed by police fire. He said two children, between 10 and 13 years old, were killed. His account could not be immediately verified

Two suspects were arrested and several fled, police said.

— Associated Press

MYANMAR
Court jails activists for defaming military

A Myanmar court jailed three activists Friday for defaming the military during antiwar demonstrations, amid growing concern about a clampdown on civil society.

A judge in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, found two men and a woman guilty of defamation, sentencing them to six months in prison and a fine of $320 each.

Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jat took part in demonstrations in war-torn Kachin in April, when an army offensive against ethnic minority guerrillas prompted more than 6,000 people to flee their homes.

The three denied wrongdoing.

The European Union and Swedish embassies in the capital, Yangon, condemned Friday’s verdict, urging authorities to review the decision.

— Associated Press

Italian lawmakers give first approval to populist budget: Italian lawmakers have given their first approval to the populist government's deficit-swelling spending plan for 2019. The lower Chamber of Deputies approved the proposal after it was put to a confidence vote to help close bickering ranks in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's coalition. But the spending plan is expected to be modified before the Senate takes it up this month. The government's plan to increase the debt to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product, up from 1.8 percent this year, alarmed European Union officials, who warned Italy that it would severely violate euro-currency rules and risk a fine.

Former Armenian leader returns to jail: An Armenian court ruled that former president Robert Kocharian should be taken into custody on charges linked to the dispersal of a 2008 protest. Kocharian spent two weeks in jail last summer on charges of violating the constitutional order by sending police to disperse a protest in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. He was freed on appeal, but a higher court ordered Friday that he should stay behind bars, and he returned to jail. Kocharian, who was president from 1998 to 2008, rejects the charges, calling them a political vendetta by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Spaniard convicted in 5 killings is arrested in Brazil: A Spanish man convicted in the 1977 killing of five leftist lawyers in a Madrid trade union office has been detained in Brazil, police said. Carlos García Juliá was arrested Thursday as he was walking down a street in a middle-class neighborhood, officials said, and is being held in a federal police cell in Sao Paulo. Spain is expected to seek extradition.

— From news services