World briefs: Ferry victims' families march

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SEOUL, South Korea -- Parents of high school students killed in the South Korean ferry disaster marched on the office of President Park Geun-hye on Friday.

Holding photos of their children, the parents said they came to ask for a meeting with Ms. Park to demand an inquiry into allegations that a tardy and bumbling response by her government drastically increased the number of deaths.

They also demanded the dismissal of a top news editor at KBS, South Korea's largest public broadcasting company, where the government has at least an indirect influence in appointing management. Local media quoted the editor as saying during a recent lunch with colleagues that the number of dead in the ferry tragedy was "not many, compared with the number of people killed in traffic accidents each year."

KBS denied that the editor made the comment.

As of Friday, 273 people were found to have died. Divers were still searching the ferry and its vicinity for 31 people who remain missing more than three weeks after the overloaded vessel sank.

Tiananmen barriers go up

BEIJING -- In time for the 25th anniversary of China's bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square, the government has unveiled shiny, new railings along the square.

Authorities say the new barriers were installed to enhance car safety as well as aesthetics, but many bloggers and critics believe it is more likely a reaction to an apparent protest attack last year in which a group of three crashed a vehicle into Tiananmen Square, killing themselves and two pedestrians and injuring at least 38.

The barriers are just one of many signs of how much preparation is underway -- and how seriously the government is taking it -- ahead of the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, which occurred June 4, 1989.

Taliban offensive planned

KABUL, Afghanistan -- After weeks of unusual lull, the Afghan Taliban said Thursday that it will launch its annual "spring offensive" next week with deadly strikes on government facilities, NATO troops and Western contractors.

In a statement, the Taliban said the attacks would begin Monday and continue into the summer as part of a final push to "completely cleanse" Afghanistan of foreign influence. The campaign will coincide with the pending second round of the presidential election, as well as the withdrawal of most remaining NATO forces.

Media curbs slammed

ISTANBUL -- A leading international human rights watchdog slammed Turkey on Friday for passing new laws that she said would further intimidate independent journalists in a country where freedom of expression is already severely limited and the news media have become "critically stifled."

Dunja Mijatovic of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe singled out an intelligence law that threatens journalists with up to 10 years in prison "for simply doing their work" on the heels of a law passed earlier this year that banned thousands of websites.

Berlusconi does service

ROME -- Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said he talked soccer and exchanged pleasantries Friday with the patients of an elderly care center where he started serving a one-year community service sentence for tax fraud.

The 77-year-old politician was convicted in August and ordered to perform at least four hours of community service once a week. He is to help care for patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia at the Sacred Family Foundation in Cesano Boscone.


-- Compiled from news services

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