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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is calling for courageous defense of children to protect them from abuse.

Francis made no mention of the church scandals in many countries in which clergy abused children and hierarchy covered up for them. At a Mass he celebrated Sunday in crowded St. Peter's Square, Francis said abuse victims are in his prayers.

He stressed that all must work with courage so that children, who are among the most vulnerable people, be always defended and protected.

Ignoring sometimes heavy rain, Francis toured the square in a popemobile, but left the vehicle to embrace disabled adults and children along his route.

In a surprise, he ventured beyond the Vatican's confines, riding the popemobile down a Rome boulevard to greet thousands of cheering faithful who couldn't fit in the square.

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syria says the recent Israeli airstrikes against its territory are a "flagrant violation of international law" and have made the Middle East "more dangerous."

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi read out a Cabinet statement to reporters Sunday in Damascus following an emergency government meeting.

Al-Zoubi says the Israeli attack is evidence of the Jewish state's links with Islamic extremist groups trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad's regime.

He adds that Syria has the right and the duty "to defend its people by all available means."

In a letter sent to the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council, Syria sats the attacks aim "to give direct military support to terrorist groups" fighting the government.

Syria's government refers to rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad's regime as "terrorists."

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — As he wraps up a trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Barack Obama is following up in his weekly media message, saying that deepening economic ties with the Americas means more jobs in the United States.

Boosted by reassuring jobs numbers, Obama is calling for greater trade and economic cooperation with the U.S.'s southern neighbors, arguing that economic prosperity is the best antidote to drug and gang violence and, by extension, to the illegal immigration that the U.S. is seeking to control.

For the Republicans North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says Washington needs to allow states more flexibility, independence and accountability and called on Obama to show more leadership.

He argued that Washington should learn from Republican governors on how to make government work efficiently.

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