Slain teen’s memorial — Hundreds of mourners and dignitaries, including first lady Michelle Obama, packed the funeral Saturday for a Chicago honor student whose killing catapulted her into the nation’s debate over gun violence. Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed Jan. 29 as she stood with friends at a park about a mile from President Barack Obama’s Chicago home in the Kenwood neighborhood. Just days before, the band majorette was among the performers during events for Obama’s inauguration. Police say Pendleton was an innocent victim in a gang-related shooting.
1st U.S. war casualty of year laid to rest — A crowd of more than 100 family members, friends and uniformed service members marched slowly and quietly Friday down a hill at Arlington National Cemetery following Army Sgt. Aaron Wittman’s coffin, draped with an American flag and carried on a horse-drawn caisson. Wittman was killed Jan. 10 while serving in the Khogyani District of Nangahar province in Afghanistan, becoming the first U.S. casualty of this year. While on mounted patrol, he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, the Defense Department said.
Raise for federal workers? — President Barack Obama will propose a pay raise for federal civilian employees that is less than private-sector wage growth yet more than that favored by many House Republicans, who want to extend an employee pay freeze. Obama will propose a 1 percent pay increase in the administration’s fiscal 2014 budget plan, which is expected in mid-March. At the same time, the House plans to vote soon on legislation that would extend the current freeze on basic pay rates through the end of the 2013 calendar year. The freeze was originally set for two years and had been scheduled to end in December but was extended until a temporary budget measure expires next month.
Fighting rages in Syria — Syrian troops backed by warplanes battled rebels for control of a key highway in Damascus on Saturday, a day after opposition forces cut the strategic artery as part of what they say are efforts to lay the groundwork for an eventual assault on the heavily defended capital. Rebels have been on the offensive in Damascus since launching a series of attacks on government positions on Wednesday. They brought their fight to within a mile of the heart of the capital on Friday, seizing army checkpoints and cutting a key highway as they pressed their campaign for the city, the seat of President Bashar Assad’s power. Both the rebels and the government consider the fight for Damascus the most likely endgame in their civil war.
Mali rebels take to hills — Expelling the Islamist militants from Timbuktu and other northern Malian towns, as the French did swiftly last month, may have been the easy part of retaking Mali, say military officials, analysts and local fighters. Attention is now being focused on one of Africa’s harshest and least-known mountain ranges — the Adrar des Ifoghas, a forbidding landscape in northeastern Mali. “These mountains are extremely difficult for foreign armies," said spokesman Backay Ag Hamed Ahmed of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
Egypt bans YouTube — A Cairo court on Saturday ordered the government to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for 30 days for carrying an anti-Islam film that caused deadly riots across the world. Judge Hassouna Tawfiq ordered YouTube blocked for carrying the film, which he described as “offensive to Islam and the Prophet (Muhammad)." He made the ruling in the Egyptian capital where the first protests against the film erupted last September before spreading to more than 20 countries, killing more than 50.