Reuters World News highlights

AMMAN/BEIRUT – Police and militia patrols fan out in the Syrian capital’s Mezze district to prevent a repeat of protests against President Bashar al-Assad that have threatened his grip on Damascus, opposition activists say.

ATHENS – Several thousand Greeks demonstrate against punishing austerity measures to reduce the country’s debt, on the eve of make-or-break talks in Brussels on a 130 billion euro ($171 billion) bailout to avert bankruptcy.

KABUL – Afghan government efforts to bring the Taliban into peace talks are stumbling and bold steps are needed to ensure that a council spearheading the reconciliation process can win the trust of insurgents, a presidential adviser says.

BAGHDAD – A suicide car bomber kills 19 police officers and cadets in an attack on a crowd outside a Baghdad police academy, police and hospital sources say.

MARSEILLE, France – President Nicolas Sarkozy tells an election rally that his policies have saved France from economic ruin and that he alone has the courage to stick to reforms that will see the nation emerge stronger from today’s turmoil.

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with opposition leaders to try to reach agreement on a common candidate for president and avert a divisive domestic battle that could distract her government in the midst of the euro zone debt crisis.

MADRID – Hundreds of thousands of people protest across Spain against labour market reforms they fear will destroy workers’ rights and spending cuts they say are destroying the welfare state.

MOSCOW – Hundreds of Russians protesting against Vladimir Putin drive through Moscow ahead of the March 4 presidential election expected to seal his grip on power.

SALT LAKE CITY – Mitt Romney isn’t singing anymore. A little more than two weeks after his off-key but enthusiastic renditions of “America the Beautiful” captured the spirit of a candidate who had won the Florida primary and seemed on the verge of locking down the Republican nomination for president, Romney is back in lacklustre mode.

SEOUL – North Korea warns South Korea that it will shell islands close to their disputed sea border if the South violates its territorial waters during a military drill reported to begin in the Yellow Sea this week.

SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists she commands support and is best qualified to lead the country, dismissing as “gossip” talk of a leadership challenge from within her party after poor polls.

ABUJA – A bomb explodes near a church in the Nigerian town of Suleja, on the edge of the capital, wounding five people, a spokesman for the emergency services says.

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