World briefs: Arab League backs peace

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AMMAN, Jordan -- The Obama administration's efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks won the blessing of an influential Arab group Wednesday.

After a meeting Wednesday with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Amman, a committee of the Arab League said the U.S. effort was "a good ground and a suitable environment for restarting the negotiations" between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

The statement by the 22-member group may give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas more political support for rejoining talks, a move likely to be unpopular with some of his constituents.

But whether Israel will now be prepared to rejoin talks was unclear because of a tempest stirred by the European Union's decision, disclosed Tuesday, to halt any assistance, including grants, financing or scholarships, to companies or institutions based in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

U.N. to inspect seized ship

PANAMA CITY -- A North Korean ship stopped by Panama laden with fighter jets and other undeclared military gear will be opened to United Nations inspectors to determine whether the cargo sent from Cuba violated international sanctions.

The seizure spurred new concern that North Korea was flouting UN Security Council sanctions imposed to punish the regime over its nuclear-weapons ambitions. The sanctions forbid North Korea from buying or selling ballistic missile or nuclear technology.

Olympic boycott rejected

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday soundly rejected suggestions that the United States boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi if Russia grants asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The Ohio Republican was asked about Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's idea that if Russia provides a safe haven for Snowden, the United States should consider keeping its athletes home during the 2014 Winter Olympics next February.

In the 1980s, the United States boycotted the Olympics over Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement Wednesday that it strongly opposes the idea that a boycott is in the country's best interest.

China detains activist

HONG KONG -- Police in Beijing have detained one of China's most prominent rights advocates, the latest in a succession of arrests that critics said showed the Communist Party's determination to silence campaigners who have challenged the party to act on its vows to expose official corruption and respect rule of law.

The rights advocate, Xu Zhiyong was held by the public transportation police Tuesday on charges of "assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place," although he has been under informal house arrest for more than three months, his wife, Cui Zheng, confirmed by telephone Wednesday.

Britain OK's gay marriage

LONDON -- Queen Elizabeth II gave final approval Wednesday to Britain's controversial same-sex marriage bill, bestowing her royal assent as is common to all new laws.

The measure passed its final legislative hurdle on Tuesday when the House of Commons approved the bill allowing same-sex couples to marry in religious and civil ceremonies.

Previously, gay and lesbian couples could enter into "civil partnerships" in Britain that carry almost the same rights as marriage. About 50,000 partnerships have been registered since 2005.

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