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Pope plans visit to Cuba in spring

HAVANA - Pope Benedict XVI will visit communist-run Cuba this spring, a senior Roman Catholic Church official said Thursday, the first trip by a pontiff since John Paul II's historic tour in 1998.

The exact date of the trip, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of Cuba's patron saint, will be announced in Rome early next week, according to Msgr. Jose Felix Perez, executive secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference.

"It will be a moment for energizing the faith in Cuba," he said. "It will give strength and vigor to the faith in Cuba. The visit should be one of peace and reconciliation."

Cuba's church has played an increasingly important role in recent years, helping negotiate the release of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010, and even consulting with President Raul Castro and his advisers on free-market reforms. - AP

Britain to allow women on subs

LONDON - Women will be allowed to serve on submarines for the first time in Britain's history, the country's defense secretary announced Thursday, after research showed there were no health reasons to support the ban.

A small number of female officers who have volunteered will begin training next year and start serving on Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarines in late 2013, Philip Hammond said.

While women have been allowed to serve on Royal Navy ships since 1990, they weren't eligible to be submariners because of concerns that higher levels of carbon dioxide in submarine atmosphere risked their health.

The U.S. Navy announced a similar policy move last year, and the first female submarine officers are scheduled to report to their vessels at the end of this year. - AP

Election results delayed in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo - After days of tension in Congo's capital as the nation awaits election results, traffic began to flow once more, women selling cassava leaves took up their usual positions on the sides of roads and a few international airlines allowed their planes to resume flights to Kinshasa on Thursday.

But anxiety remained high that the Central African nation stretching over a territory as large as Western Europe would descend into violence, with supporters of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi vowing to take to the streets if President Joseph Kabila is declared the winner.

Instead of issuing results as promised Thursday, the country's election commission chief called a hasty news conference to announce another one-day postponement. "We need to double-check the results," Daniel Ngoy Mulunda said late Thursday. "We are before a very demanding public." - AP


Severe winds slammed Scotland on Thursday, snarling transport and leaving thousands without power as gusts in some areas surpassed 100 m.p.h. Britain's Met Office - which issued a "red alert" for parts of Scotland - said a wind speed of 151 m.p.h. was recorded on a summit in Aberdeenshire. The gale-force winds led authorities to close many schools and bridges.