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story.lead_photo.caption Algerian lawyers gather outside the Algiers courthouse on Monday.

Algerian relents, won't seek fifth term

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday bowed to unprecedented public protests and promised not to seek a fifth term after 20 years in power.

In a letter to the nation released by state news agency APS, the ailing leader also said the presidential election scheduled for April 18 would be postponed. He promised to appoint a new leadership structure to plan a rescheduled vote.

Bouteflika, who is 82, has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke. His decision to run again set off protests in February that have expanded to include broader complaints about corruption and heavy-handed security policies.

The president returned Sunday after two weeks in a Geneva hospital, but the state of his health remains unclear.

Critics said they fear the moves could pave the way for the president to install a hand-picked successor. On Monday, Algerian teenagers and lawyers held protests and workers held scattered walkouts, as the tense nation waited to see what concessions Bouteflika would give, if any.

AG backs delay in Netanyahu-file sharing

JERUSALEM -- Israel's attorney general said he will wait until after the country's April 9 elections to release material from the corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement Monday that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit agreed to delay handing Netanyahu's attorneys evidence in the corruption cases until after the elections out of concern over media leaks. Mandelblit last month recommended criminal charges against Netanyahu in three corruption cases, shaking up the re-election prospects for the long-serving Israeli leader.

Charges can only be filed after a hearing. The Justice Ministry said that would take place by July 10.

The charges include allegations that he accepted gifts from billionaire friends and promoted beneficial regulations for a telecommunications magnate in exchange for positive coverage on a news site. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Gang abducts bus passengers in Mexico

MEXICO CITY -- An armed gang hauled 19 people off a passenger bus in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, security officials said Monday.

The gang forced the bus to stop on a highway between the border city of Reynosa and the town of San Fernando on Thursday. They abducted the victims but allowed 22 other passengers to continue on to Reynosa, according to a state official who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

The official said the victims appear to have been Central American migrants. No relatives have come forward to file missing persons reports, suggesting the victims do not have family in Mexico.

The official said the case had been turned over to federal prosecutors because it involves organized crime.

In 2010 and 2011, the Zetas drug cartel and its rivals kidnapped both Mexican male bus passengers and hundreds of immigrants, primarily to forcibly recruit them or hold them for ransom. Last week's kidnapping recalls the horrors of 2011, when dozens of passengers were hauled off buses by drug gangs in Tamaulipas. Those victims were killed, and their bodies were dumped in mass graves.

Forces advance on ISIS' turf in Syria

BAGHOUZ, Syria -- U.S.-backed Syrian forces pounded the last village held by the Islamic State with artillery and heavy weapons Monday and made slow advances on its edges, battling militants holed up in underground tunnels.

The fighters of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces moved toward a tent encampment in the village of Baghouz and at one point encircled a group of Islamic State militants, killing a number of them in an hourlong battle, a Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman said.

After weeks of besieging Baghouz, forces launched an operation Sunday night that aims to finally take the last tiny patch of land held by the militants, a pocket on the banks of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.

Operations against the Islamic State "will continue until we totally wipe them out," the U.S.-backed group vowed in a statement Monday, saying its fighters had made "tangible progress" since Sunday, with 37 militants killed and five Syrian Democratic Forces fighters wounded.

About 500 Islamic State fighters are believed to be in the territory, along with possibly 3,000 to 4,000 civilians, including women and children -- mainly family members who remained after thousands of civilians streamed out of Baghouz in the past week during pauses in the fighting.

A senior U.S. defense official said in Washington on Friday that it would not be a surprise, based on current conditions, if it took another couple of weeks to finish "mopping up" the Islamic State enclave.

-- COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS

Photo by AP/MAYA ALLERUZZO
Smoke rises as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battle Islamic State militants remaining in a pocket of Baghouz, Syria, on Monday.

A Section on 03/12/2019

Print Headline: AG backs delay in Netanyahu-file sharing Algerian relents, won't seek fifth term Gang abducts bus passengers in Mexico Forces advance on ISIS' turf in Syria

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