World briefs (9/5/13)

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Mexico passes school overhaul

MEXICO CITY -- Lawmakers approved a major overhaul of Mexico's public education system early Wednesday, giving President Enrique Peña Nieto a crucial victory in his drive to fix some of the country's most dysfunctional institutions.

By a wide margin of 102-22, Mexican senators voted for a package of measures that will establish a standardized testing system for evaluating teacher performance and the hiring of new faculty, ending the corrupt practices that allowed union bosses to buy and sell classroom jobs and pad their pockets at students' expense.

The Senate vote followed approval of the measures by Mexico's lower house of Congress on Sunday by a similarly broad margin, 390-69.

Blackout hits Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's main power distribution network failed Tuesday, depriving 70 percent of the country of electricity and creating traffic chaos in much of Caracas, which normally escapes such outages.

Electrical Energy Minister Jesse Chacon said on state TV that the failure was in the "backbone" that carries electricity from the Bajo Caroni region, where 60 percent of Venezuela's power is generated.

President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday night that 14 of 23 states lost power for much of the day and blamed "sabotage," which he did not detail.

Berlusconi allies maneuver

ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi's allies clashed with their partners in Italy's governing coalition over the push to expel the three-time prime minister from the Senate. Italian stocks fell amid concern the turmoil could upset the government.

Tension between the two biggest parties in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's alliance threatens to topple the four-month-old administration. The two sides are divided about whether Mr. Berlusconi, who lost the final appeal of a tax-fraud conviction last month, deserves to be ousted from parliament. Senator Altero Matteoli, a Berlusconi ally, said Wednesday the government will fall if the expulsion is carried out, the Ansa news agency reported.

S. Korean lawmakers

SEOUL, South Korea -- The South Korean National Assembly on Wednesday voted to allow the arrest of an opposition lawmaker on charges of plotting treason in a case that rekindled fears of a pro-North Korean rebellion and concern about the actions of a powerful intelligence agency that has been long accused of meddling in domestic politics under the pretext of hunting Communists.

The lawmaker, Lee Seok-ki, a member of the minor United Progressive Party, is accused of gathering 130 followers, some of them drunk and with small children, in two secret late-night meetings in May to plot an armed rebellion in support of the North in case of war. North Korea had heightened military tensions earlier this year by declaring that it would no longer honor the 60-year-old cease-fire that halted the Korean War in 1953.

New smartwatch unveiled

SUWON, South Korea -- Samsung Electronics Co. set the price of its Galaxy Gear at $299 as the biggest maker of smartphones beats Apple Inc. in unveiling a wristwatch device that can make phone calls, surf the Web and take photos.

Featuring a 1.63-inch screen and 1.9- megapixel camera, the Gear will go on sale Sept. 25, Shin Jong Kyun, head of Samsung's mobile business, said at the company's headquarters in Suwon, South Korea. The device will sync with tablets and smartphones using Google Inc.'s Android software.

-- Compiled from news wires

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