Spain says reforms begin to pay off

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Spain's efforts to trim its budget deficit and put its financial house in order are producing "positive signs," the Iberian nation's economy minister said here in an appearance before the European Parliament.

Luis de Guindos expressed his confidence Monday in the way Spain is headed now, despite the European Commission's forecast that the Spanish government will run a deficit equal to 8 percent of GDP this year and 6 percent in 2013, well above Madrid's projections of 6.5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

"We're aware that economic forecasts for Spain by international organizations are below our expectations, but those forecasts are not carved in stone," he told Euro lawmakers.

In Spain, he said, we're already seeing positive signs that our efforts at correcting the deficit will start producing effects in the medium term," and pointed to the excellent prospects for Spanish exports.

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Spain's banks to suspend foreclosures for neediest borrowers

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The Spanish Banking Association said that its members have agreed to suspend mortgage foreclosures for the next two years in cases of extreme hardship.

Banks want to provide relief to some of the many people who are struggling amid Spain's economic crisis, the association, known as the AEB, said in a statement.

The organization representing the "cajas," or savings banks, said those institutions will suspend foreclosures pending the enactment of new legislation now being hashed out by negotiators from the government and the main opposition.

Both conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and leaders of the Socialist party say a bill to put a halt to evictions is a top priority.

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Former right arm of Brazil's Lula sentenced to prison

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Brazil's Supreme Court sentenced a former presidential chief of staff to nearly 11 years in prison for his role in a congressional vote-buying scheme during the first two years of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's 2003-2011 tenure.

Jose Dirceu's actions "put at risk the foundations of the democratic system itself," Justice Joaquim Barbosa said.

The stiff sentence reflects Dirceu's prominent role in the activities of the 24 other defendants convicted in Brazil's "trial of the century," the jurist said.

Dirceu spent two decades as the political right arm of Lula, founder of the Workers Party, or PT, which remains in power under President Dilma Rousseff.

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Honduran cop kills 5 of his comrades

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Five Honduran police were killed when one of their colleagues opened fire inside a precinct house in the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba, authorities said.

"(N)on-commissioned officer Elias Mejia entered into the Arrests section and began to shoot at five colleagues," national police director Juan Carlos Bonilla told the media.

The shooter is in custody, he said.

An investigation is under way to determine "what it was that caused this deed," Bonilla said, adding that the incident would not stop efforts to purge corrupt, abusive or otherwise unsuitable personnel from the force.

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Djokovic wins 2ns ATP World Tour Finals crown

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Novak Djokovic, the globe's top-ranked tennis player, beat Roger Federer 7-6, 7-5 here to win his second Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Displaying again his vaunted mental toughness, the Serb battled back after falling behind in the first set and denied the Swiss great what would have been his seventh triumph in the year-end event.

No matter what happened in the final, Djokovic was assured of finishing as the world's top player for the second consecutive season.

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Alleged terrorist detained in Britain

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A 24-year-old man was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport on suspicion of terrorist activity, British police said.

The suspect was arrested Monday morning after landing in the British capital on a flight from Bahrain and being intercepted at an immigration checkpoint.

"Today's arrest forms part of an investigation into travel to Syria in support of alleged terrorist activity," British police said in a brief communique.

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Escaped captive in Colombia walks 4 days with bullet in his head

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A man who was kidnapped almost three months go in northern Colombia survived after being shot in the head while escaping from his captors, and managed to reach safety after walking for four days, authorities said.

Cattle rancher and trader Angel Ramon Rodriguez returned under his own power to Riohacha, the capital of the Caribbean province of La Guajira.

A police spokesperson told the press that Rodriguez and his wife Mariluz Acosta, who remains missing, were abducted Aug. 18 from a family ranch in the rural Riohacha area.

The incident was attributed to six armed men in an SUV who seized the couple after tying up several workers on the property.

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Japan's economy shrinks 3.5 percent in 3rd quarter

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Japan's economy shrank by 3.5 percent in the third quarter on an annualized basis, marking the biggest contraction since early 2011, the government said.

The country's gross domestic product declined by 0.9 percent relative to the previous quarter, the Cabinet Office said.

The third-quarter contraction was the biggest since the 8 percent drop in the first quarter of 2011, when a devastating earthquake and tsunami had a chilling effect on the country's economy.

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EFE