World briefs: Fierce clashes rage in Syria

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BEIRUT -- Fierce clashes broke out in Damascus between rebel forces and the Syrian military Wednesday after a relative lull in fighting that lasted several weeks.

Rebel fighters attacked forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Abbasseen Square in central Damascus as well as several neighborhoods surrounding the capital, according to opposition activists.

But the official Syrian Arab News Agency said the reports of fighting in Damascus are "categorically baseless and are desperate attempts intended to lift the morale of the terrorists."

Raids target smugglers

LONDON -- Immigration authorities in Britain, Belgium and France carried out coordinated raids at scores of addresses Wednesday to round up people suspected of being members of gangs that smuggle people across or under the English Channel as stowaways in long-haul trucks.

People-smuggling offers organized gangs potentially rich pickings as desperate migrants from troubled lands including Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan pay up to $10,000 each to be spirited past Britain's strict border controls and across physical barriers, particularly the 22-mile-wide English Channel.

Trucks cross the channel by ferry or through a tunnel leading from Calais in France to near Folkestone in England.

EU overhauls fishing policy

PARIS -- In an outcome hailed by environmentalists, European Union lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to overhaul the region's troubled fisheries policy to end decades of overfishing.

Responding to widespread public dissatisfaction with the current policy, the European Parliament voted 502-137 to impose sustainable quotas by 2015 and end the wasteful practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea. The legislation also returns some management responsibility to EU member states.

Under current policy, 63 percent of the EU's Atlantic stocks are overfished and 82 percent of its Mediterranean stocks, according to the European Commission.

Dogs to get microchips

LONDON -- Dog owners who refuse to fit Fido with a microchip may someday find themselves fetching a hefty fine, the British government said Wednesday.

All dogs in England will have to be fitted with microchips by 2016, authorities said, meaning that canines across the country will be chasing cars with a tiny circuit embedded in the back of their necks.

Britain's Environment Department said that the chips would help reunite owners with lost or stolen pets, promote animal welfare and take the pressure off animal shelters. Owners who refuse to fit their dogs with chips face fines of up to 500 pounds ($800).

Quake triggers tsunami

SYDNEY -- Eight people were killed when a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 8.0 off-shore earthquake hit the Solomon Islands Wednesday, according to the aid organization World Vision.

More than 70 aftershocks, including a magnitude 7.0 quake, followed the main temblor that struck at 12:12 p.m. local time, 50 miles west of Lata, at a depth of 3 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The sea surge destroyed, or severely damaged, more than 100 homes, according to World Vision.

The Solomon Islands archipelago, about 1,500 miles east of Australia, lies in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and experiences frequent seismic tremors.



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