World briefs: More austerity set for Greece

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ATHENS, Greece -- Greece's conservative-led coalition detailed a new four-year package of austerity measures Monday, facing down escalating protests by unions and dissent from its left-wing government partners.

The bill, to be voted in Parliament late Wednesday, will impose further wage and benefit cuts on Greeks who are heading into a sixth year of recession and are already struggling with 25 percent unemployment. Unions had already called a 48-hour general strike starting today in anticipation of the measures.

Measures include a two-year increase in the retirement age to 67, a new round of tax increases, and making it easier to fire and transfer civil servants.

Candidate seeks accord

SEOUL, South Korea -- Ruling party presidential nominee Park Geun-hye said Monday she wants to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to improve relations if she wins next month's election.

Ms. Park, whose mother was killed in 1974 during a North Korean assassination attempt on her father when he led South Korea, pledged to reverse outgoing President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line stance against Mr. Kim's regime. North Korea two days ago blasted the ruling New Frontier Party and said ties would worsen if she is elected.

Ms. Park, 60, is seeking to become the first female leader of Asia's fourth-largest economy in the Dec. 19 vote.

Laos to start dam project

BANGKOK -- Laos will start construction on a $3.6 billion hydropower dam on the Mekong River that has been delayed for 18 months amid opposition from downstream countries and activist groups.

The groundbreaking will take place Wednesday at the site of the dam, said Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of energy and mining.

The hydropower plant is the first among eight that Laos plans to build on the Mekong to expand Southeast Asia's smallest economy by selling electricity to neighboring countries. Vietnam last year recommended a 10-year delay for all dam projects on the river, which also runs through Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia from its source in China's Tibetan plateau.

Gay issues in trouble

PARIS -- A plan to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay couples to adopt was a liberal cornerstone of Francois Hollande's election manifesto earlier this year. It looked like a shoo-in for the French president, supported by a majority of the country, and an easy way to break with his conservative predecessor. But that was then.

Now, as the Socialist government prepares to unveil its draft "marriage for everyone" law Wednesday, polls show wavering support for the idea and for the president himself amid increasingly vocal opposition in this majority Catholic country.

The political hot potato has exposed divisions between urban France, where homosexuality is widely accepted, and the rural heartland, where conservative attitudes hold sway.

2nd Vatican scandal trial

VATICAN CITY -- A Vatican court on Monday rejected a request from defense lawyers that the charges brought against a computer technician, accused of aiding and abetting Pope Benedict XVI's former butler in leaking confidential papal documents to the press, be dropped.

Gianluca Benedetti, lawyer of Claudio Sciarpelletti, argued that his client had no motive for committing the crime as he was not a personal friend of the butler, Paolo Gabriele, as the prosecution has charged.

Mr. Sciarpelletti has been accused of providing contradictory explanations as to how he came into possession of material that was eventually published in a chapter of a book, "Sua Santita" ("His Holiness"), which exposed infighting within the Vatican hierarchy.

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