World briefs: Pakistan, Taliban open peace talks

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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani government officials and Taliban representatives made their first formal contact on Thursday, each side handing the other a wish list as they began talks to end a debilitating conflict that has ravaged the country for years.

The talks took place a week after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that he wanted to give peace negotiations another chance despite mounting pressure in the country to use force against Taliban insurgents, who have challenged the government's authority in tribal regions and made inroads in urban areas.

On Thursday, a four-member government team met with negotiators nominated by the Taliban and led by Maulana Samiul Haq, a prominent religious leader who has close ties to the Taliban leadership.


Korean War reunions threatened



SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Thursday threatened to cancel reunions of families separated by the Korean War, accusing the United States of flying nuclear-capable B-52 bombers on a training mission over the Korean Peninsula.

North and South Korea agreed Wednesday to hold the family reunions from Feb. 20 to Feb. 25.

But Thursday, North Korea warned that it could scrap the agreement unless South Korea canceled joint annual military exercises that it planned to start with the United States the last week of this month.


Accord reached on Homs

GENEVA -- The United Nations confirmed Thursday that Syria's warring sides have agreed to a temporary halt in fighting in the city of Homs so that civilians can leave and a convoy of life-saving supplies can be delivered to the besieged old city district.

When the pause in fighting will take place was uncertain, but officials said it might come as soon as today -- a step that U.N. officials said would improve the atmosphere ahead of a second round of peace talks that are set to begin Monday.

Meanwhile a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of a Syrian prison Thursday and rebels stormed in behind him, freeing hundreds of inmates.


Turkey approves new Internet restrictions

ANKARA, Turkey -- New Internet restrictions approved by parliament are raising concerns the government is trying to control the flow of information amid a corruption scandal, and a senior European official on Thursday called the measures "a step back" for media freedom.

Under the legislation approved Wednesday, the country's telecommunications authority would be allowed to block websites or remove content that is deemed to be in violation of privacy without seeking court approval.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protested across Israel

JERUSALEM -- Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protested across Israel on Thursday against the government's plans to draft them into the military.

Carrying signs and chanting slogans pledging to resist enlistment, the demonstrators shut down major traffic arteries, set fire to garbage dumpsters and even a police vehicle, as police attempted to contain them with water cannons and mounted troops.

U.S. envoy to China

WASHINGTON -- The Senate easily confirmed longtime Sen. Max Baucus on Thursday to become ambassador to China, handing the job to a lawmaker well-versed in U.S. trade policy.

Senators gave final approval to the nomination of the moderate Mr. Baucus, D-Mont., by 96-0.


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