World news briefs: 3/10/14

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Iraq bombing kills dozens

BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomber set off his explosives-laden vehicle at a security checkpoint Sunday in southern Iraq, the deadliest in a series of attacks that killed 42 people, officials said. The violence, which comes a few weeks before scheduled elections, is the latest by insurgents bent on destabilizing the country.

The blast struck the entrance of the Shiite-dominated city of Hillah during morning rush hour as dozens of cars waited to be searched. The explosion killed 21 civilians, including a woman and 12-year-old, and 15 security personnel, two police officers said. It wounded at least 115, they said.

Elsewhere Sunday, militants launched attacks just outside the capital against security forces and employees of the state-run oil company, killing six people, police said. They said the assaults wounded 16.

Iraq has seen a spike in violence since last April, with the death toll climbing to its highest levels since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting in 2006-08.

Nuns released in Syria

BEIRUT -- At least a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns kidnapped by Syrian rebels near Damascus in December were released Sunday, according to Syria's official news agency and Lebanese media reports.

Various media accounts indicated that the nuns had been released near the rebel-held Syrian city of Yabroud and transported to the Lebanese border town of Arsaal. The nuns reportedly had been held for months in Yabroud, which is now the focus of a Syrian military offensive.

The nuns' release would be a public relations victory for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has fashioned itself as a defender of minorities amid a war waged by Islamic groups it characterizes as terrorists. The Syrian military has been advancing against rebels on various fronts as the war approaches its three-year mark.

Iran enthusiasm tempered

TEHRAN, Iran -- The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said Sunday that there was "no guarantee" that Iran and world powers would be able to reach a final, comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

A six-month, renewable interim agreement with Iran in November obliged the republic to stop enriching uranium to high levels and to reduce its stockpile of near-weapons-grade uranium in return for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

N. Korea holds elections

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea on Sunday held its first parliamentary elections under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, who was expected to use the polls and a newly elected legislature to elevate officials loyal to him and further consolidate his power.

North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly has served as a rubber-stamp parliament, endorsing whatever decisions were made by the top leader and his inner circles.

Ex-Salvador rebel in lead

MEXICO CITY -- The candidate for El Salvador's ruling party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a former guerrilla commander turned education minister, appeared to be headed to victory in presidential elections Sunday, with final polls giving him a double-digit lead.

Although El Salvador is wracked by gang violence and economic growth is anemic, the government's social programs have been popular, including handouts of school uniforms and supplies to poor children.

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