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World news briefs — compiled Jan. 9

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SYRIA

Infighting frays opposition

Two weeks ahead of an international peace conference on Syria, the country’s main Western-backed opposition group stands on the brink of collapse, dragged down by outside pressures, infighting and deep disagreements over the basic question of whether to talk to President Bashar Assad. The crisis in the Syrian National Coalition raises further doubts about the conference, which is set to open Jan. 22 in Switzerland. The prospects for a successful outcome at the talks appear bleak at best: Assad has said he will not hand over power, and the opposition is in no position to force concessions from him.

JAPAN

Chemical plant blast kills 12

An explosion at a chemical factory in central Japan on Thursday killed at least five workers and injured 12 others, authorities said. Investigators suspect chemical reaction involving hydrogen caused the blast at metal and chemical company Mitsubishi Materials Corp.’s Yokkaichi plant, about 220 miles west of Tokyo. The blast appeared to have occurred when plant workers were rinsing heat exchange equipment at the silicone plant during maintenance, a Mie prefectural police official said.

SOUTH KOREA

Proposed reunions rejected

North Korea on Thursday dismissed a South Korean proposal to resume reunions of families separated by war, but used an unusually mild tone that indicated it still wants better ties with its rival to help boost its struggling economy. The reunion program has been stalled amid tension between the rival Koreas since late 2010. The Koreas had agreed to resume the humanitarian program last September but North Korea abruptly canceled the plan.

CUBA

Earthquake sways buildings

A 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck in the Straits of Florida off Cuba on Thursday, startling office workers in medium-rise buildings set swaying in Havana. There was no word of any damage or injuries. The temblor occurred just before 4 p.m. about 106 miles east of Havana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Compiled from wire reports.


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