Troops push to end standoff with rebels

Philippine troops have started to battle their way into coastal villages in the south where Muslim rebels have held scores of residents hostage in a six-day standoff, sparking fierce clashes that have killed 56 people and displaced more than 60,000, officials said Saturday.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said government forces surrounding about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front faction are slowly retaking rebel-held areas and clearing roads in villages in the coastal outskirts of Zamboanga, a major port city.

Although the fighting had been contained to three coastal villages by Saturday, Roxas said that the danger to the trading city of nearly a million people remained serious and that its international airport and main seaport would remain closed.

— Associated Press

Premier rules out Catalan referendum

Spain’s prime minister has rejected a request by the leader of Catalonia to approve a referendum that would allow the economically powerful northeastern region to decide whether to secede from the rest of the country.

In a written reply, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told Artur Mas, Catalonia’s leader, that “the ties that bind us together cannot be undone without enormous cost” and that the two politicians should hold talks instead.

Spain’s constitution says that only the central government can call a referendum.

More than a million people showed support for Catalan independence Wednesday by forming a 250-mile human chain.

— Associated Press

Mexico arrests third suspect in killing of U.S. border agent: Mexico has arrested a third man wanted in connection with the 2010 slaying of a U.S. Border Patrol agent whose death drew attention to a botched U.S. operation, dubbed “Fast and Furious,” to track guns smuggled to Mexico. Police in the northwestern state of Sinaloa said Ivan Soto Barraza, suspected of participating in the killing of Brian Terry in a shootout in the Arizona borderlands, was captured Wednesday.

Somali Islamic center eulogizes American jihadist: American jihadist Omar Shafik Hammami was murdered “in cold blood,” a Somalia-based Islamic center said, backing up reports that the militant from Alabama was killed Thursday by rivals in the Islamist extremist group al-Shabab. The Islamic World Issues Study Center published a tribute online in which it calls the killings of Hammami, 29, also known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, and two other militants a “tragedy,” the SITE monitoring group reported.

U.S. envoy meets with Sudan officials: A U.S. envoy has met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum over disputes concerning the oil-rich Abyei region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan. Donald Booth will fly Sunday to Juba for similar meetings with South Sudanese officials. The State Department said the mission aims to “express the United States’ deep concern at the lack of progress made by Sudan and South Sudan” over their differences.

— From news services