Russian soldiers march by the monument to the motherland during ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the World War II battle of Stalingrad. The city is now known as Volgograd.



Gay marriage bill wins support

PARIS - France's National Assembly has approved a key article of a controversial bill that would legalize gay marriage.

The measure, approved by a 249-to-97 vote Saturday, would drop the legal requirement that a marriage in France must be between two people of the opposite sex.

To become law, the measure must now be approved by France's Senate. That is expected to happen, since President Francois Hollande favors the change.

However, the legislation also contains a measure that has been more controversial in the parliamentary debate, which began Tuesday. It would legalize gay adoption, and hundreds of thousands of supporters and opponents of the measure have held protests in Paris.


Country may buy Russian missiles

SAO PAULO - Brazil's Defense Ministry says it is interested in buying Russian anti-aircraft defense systems.

Gen. Jose Carlos De Nardi, the head of the joint chiefs of staff of the Brazilian Armed Forces, is quoted in a Defense Ministry statement as saying, "We are interested in the acquisition of three batteries of medium- level Pantsir-S1 missiles and two batteries of Igla missiles."

He said that if an agreement is signed, it would include the construction of a factory in Brazil and the transfer of technology.


Syrian-style revolt impossible, says PM

BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister said Saturday that a Syrian-style revolt against the government "will not happen" in his country, despite mounting street protests by minority Sunnis against his Shiite-led rule.

In Iraq, Sunnis complaining of official discrimination have staged weekly anti-government rallies since December, including on Friday when tens of thousands blocked a major highway west of the capital of Baghdad.

Protesters have called for the cancellation of anti-terrorism laws and government policies they believe target Sunnis unfairly, and have called for the ouster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki told the Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya on Saturday that he is ready to engage with the protesters to some extent. However, he alleged that some were trying to exploit the protests, including the al-Qaida terror network and supporters of Saddam Hussein, the late dictator ousted during the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.


70th anniversary of Stalingrad battle

VOLGOGRAD - An aged T-34 tank clattered into the center of the southern Russian city once known as Stalingrad, and soldiers dressed in World War II-era uniforms marched solemnly as Russia marked the 70th anniversary of the end of one of modern warfare's bloodiest battles.

President Vladimir Putin came to the city later Saturday to take part in the commemorations, including a visit to the famous hilltop memorial complex surmounted by a towering 280-foot statue of a sword-wielding woman representing the motherland.

"Stalingrad will forever remain a symbol of unity and invincibility of our people, a symbol of genuine patriotism, a symbol of the greatest victory of the Soviet liberator soldier. And as long as we are devoted to Russia, our language, culture, roots and national memory, Russia will be invincible," Putin said.

The city 560 miles south of Moscow suffered six months of intensive fighting, beginning with massive airstrikes, as Nazi forces tried to push deep into the Soviet Union and reach its Caucasus oil fields.

At least 1.2 million people are estimated to have died before the fighting ended on Feb. 2, 1943. The Red Army's defeat of the Nazis after house-to-house battling was a decisive turn in World War II.


Strong quake hits north; no tsunami

TOKYO - A strong earthquake struck Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Saturday, but authorities said there was no danger of a tsunami. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake had a magnitude of 6.4 and hit at 11:17 p.m. local time in the Tokachi region in southern Hokkaido, at a depth of 75 miles. The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 6.9.

The Associated Press