World briefs: Economy slides in Japan

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TOKYO -- Japan says its economy contracted in July-September, foiling hopes for a rebound and signaling to many economists it may already be in recession.

The minus 3.5 percent annual growth rate for the quarter was in line with gloomy forecasts for the world's third-largest economy, which has suffered as a territorial dispute with China hammered exports already weakened by feeble global demand.

Based on the most recent data, economists are forecasting a further decline in October to December, which would officially put Japan in recession, marked by two consecutive quarterly contractions.

The government also said today that consumer spending fell 0.5 percent as subsidies for auto purchases expired and corporate capital spending fell 3.2 percent. Spending on reconstruction from the March 2011 disasters has also weakened.

Greece OKs austerity plan

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek lawmakers approved the country's 2013 austerity budget early today, an essential step in Greece's efforts to persuade its international creditors to unblock a vital rescue loan installment without which the country will go bankrupt.

The budget passed by a 167-128 vote in the 300-member Parliament. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged that the spending cuts will be the last Greeks have to endure.

"Greece has done what it was asked to do and now is the time for the creditors to make good on their commitments," he stressed.

China seeks to calm worry

BEIJING -- China's top banking regulators and the chairmen of the four largest banks tried to allay concerns on Sunday that the country was allowing its banking system to grow at a reckless pace as a way to sustain short-term economic growth.

The regulators and bank chairmen said during a rare joint news conference that they were managing the industry prudently and that effective measures had been taken to limit risk even as lending expands briskly.

Loans have been climbing steeply as a share of the economy for four years, prompting foreign bank analysts to question the sustainability of an economic model based on ever more debt invested in a wide range of industries that are already facing overcapacity.

Illegal ivory seized in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Customs authorities in Dubai have seized ivory worth as much as 15 million dirhams ($4.1 million) from more than 100 poached elephants.

The UAE's state news agency reported Sunday that authorities at the Jebel Ali Port seized the ivory hidden in a shipment of green beans. They said it came from an unnamed African country but did not say where it was headed.

Conservationists say poaching, especially in central Africa, now reduces elephant numbers by 60,000 every year. Port cities like Dubai are key transport hubs for ivory, most of it destined for China.

Group endorses Mali plan

ABUJA, Nigeria -- West African leaders "endorsed the main recommendations" of a plan to intervene militarily in Mali, and will commit 3,300 troops to help retake that country's northern region, which has been occupied by rebel groups since April, according to a statement.

The Economic Community of West African States "reiterates that dialogue remains the preferred option in the resolution of the political crisis in Mali," the group said in a statement issued Sunday at the end of a summit in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

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