DAMASCUS, Syria

U.S., Russia urged to bring Assad’s people back to table

The United Nations’ secretary-general pressed the U.S. and Russia to help ensure that peace talks aimed at stemming Syria’s civil war can soon resume, while Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday that it was “very difficult” to push Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to make concessions.

A week of peace talks ended in Geneva on Friday with no concrete progress and no immediate commitment from Assad’s envoys to return on Feb. 10 for more meetings with the Western-backed opposition as suggested by mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

On his return to Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his delegation was “ready” and waiting for an invitation to return to Switzerland, in a statement carried on state media.

Ban urged the warring parties to “come back with more sense of earnestness as well as seriousness and urgency.”

MADRID

Abortion rights advocates march to protest new law

Tens of thousands of people marched to Spain’s parliament on Saturday to protest the conservative government’s new law that aims to restrict abortion, allowing the practice only in cases of rape or serious risk to health.

The rally was organized by dozens of women’s groups and entities that fight for reproductive rights.

Protesters carried banners saying, “Because I decide,” “Allow mothers to decide,” and “Mothers and fathers in freedom.”

The previous Socialist government made abortion before the 14th week widely legal. But the ruling Popular Party has long sided with the Roman Catholic Church on moral and social issues and made changing the law one of its main promises in the 2011 vote that brought it to power.

BANGKOK

Clashes continue on eve of nationwide elections

Gunfire rang out across a busy intersection in Thailand’s capital for more than an hour Saturday as government supporters clashed with protesters trying to derail tense nationwide elections one day before the vote begins. At least seven people were wounded, including an American photojournalist.

The exchange of fire was the latest flare-up in a monthslong struggle by protesters to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s beleaguered government, which they accuse of corruption.

Polls open Sunday for an electoral contest that has devolved into a battle of wills between the government and protesters – and those caught in between who insist on their right to vote.