AP News in Brief at 10:58 p.m. EST


Pope extends hand of friendship to Muslims during Good Friday rite

ROME — Pope Francis reached out in friendship to “so many Muslim brothers and sisters” during a Good Friday procession dedicated to the suffering of Christians from terrorism, war and religious fanaticism in the Middle East.

The new pontiff, who has rankled traditionalists by rejecting many trappings of his office, mostly stuck to the traditional script during the nighttime Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum, one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy Week.

With torches lighting the way, the faithful carried a cross to different stations, where meditations and prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Jesus’ life and his crucifixion.

This year, the prayers were composed by young Lebanese, and many recalled the plight of minority Christians in the region, where wars have forced thousands to flee their homelands. The meditations called for an end to “violent fundamentalism,” terrorism and the “wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East.”

Francis, who became pope just over two weeks ago, chose, however, to stress Christians’ positive relations with Muslims in the region in his brief comments at the end of the ceremony.

Obama presses plan for more private spending on public works to create jobs

MIAMI — Trying to show that the economy remains a top priority, President Barack Obama promoted a plan Friday to create construction and other jobs by attracting private money to help rebuild roads, bridges and other public works projects.

Obama fleshed out the details during a visit to a Miami port that’s undergoing $2 billion in upgrades paid for with government and private dollars. The quick trip was designed to show that the economy and unemployment are top priorities for a president who also is waging high-profile campaigns on immigration reform and gun control.

Obama said the unemployment rate among construction workers was the highest of any industry, despite being cut nearly in half over the past three years.

“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and economy,” Obama said. “As president, my top priority is to make sure we are doing everything we can to reignite the true engine of our economic growth — and that is a rising, thriving middle class.”

Pyongyang says it’s in a ‘state of war’ with South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea declared Saturday it has entered “a state of war” with South Korea in the latest of a string of threats that have raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s government, parties and organizations said in a joint statement that all matters between the two countries will now be dealt with in a manner befitting war

The Korean Peninsula is already in a technical state of war because the Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. But Pyongyang ditched that armistice earlier this month.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry quickly released a statement calling the latest threat not new and saying it is a follow-up to Kim’s earlier order to put troops on a high alert in response to annual U.S-South Korean defense drills. Pyongyang sees those drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned his forces were ready “to settle accounts with the U.S.” after two American B-2 bombers flew a training mission in South Korea.

By wire sources