World briefs (1/6/13)

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U.S. weighs troop levels

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is considering keeping a force as small as 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, U.S. officials said Saturday.

The new options under consideration are smaller than the 6,000 to 20,000 troops Gen. John R. Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is said to have previously suggested.

These potential alternatives were produced by the Pentagon at the behest of the White House and reflect a familiar pattern within the Obama administration on the use of force.

Leaders talk buffer zone

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan agreed on Saturday to set up a demilitarized zone along their disputed border, said an African Union mediator and Sudan's state news agency.

Presidents Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan agreed in September to withdraw their armies from the border area between their countries. But neither side has done so.

Instead, each accuses the other of supporting rebels in and near the border region. Tensions have continued to boil, and war nearly erupted in April.

Flight lost off Venezuela

NEW YORK -- A small plane carrying four Italian tourists, including the head of the Missoni fashion business, disappeared off the coast of Venezuela on Friday morning, prompting a sea and air search that continued Saturday.

Vittorio Missoni, 58, an owner of the family-run label famed for its zigzag knitwear, and his wife, Maurizia Castiglioni, were aboard the plane.

Venezuelan officials said four passengers and two crew members were aboard.

Flag protests continue

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland police used water cannons to fend off brick-hurling protesters in Belfast on Saturday as violent demonstrations over flying the British flag stretched into a third straight day.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was investigating reports that a number of shots were fired at police lines. A 38-year-man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, police said.

More than 1,000 demonstrators marched on Belfast's city hall earlier Saturday amid a heavy police presence.

While the rally passed largely without incident, police then came under attack from a mob of more than 100 people hurling bricks and fireworks.

Two men were arrested, police said.

Cat used in smuggling try

SAO PAULO -- Guards thought there was something suspicious about a little white cat slipping through a prison gate in northeastern Brazil.

A prison official says that when they caught the animal, they found a cellphone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body.

Alagoas state prisons spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno said the cat was caught New Year's Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca.

Also in the world ...

A court has acquitted Egypt's former culture minister, Farouq Hosni, on charges he failed to account for around $1.5 million of his wealth. ... Iran's police chief says the Islamic Republic is developing new software to control social networking sites. ... Kiyomura K.K., a Tokyo-based sushi chain, paid a record 155.4 million yen ($1.76 million) to outbid an affiliate of a Hong Kong-based rival for a 489-pound tuna that it said would be enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese customers alike. -- Compiled from news services

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