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North Korea ordered a stop to the reunions of families divided by the peninsula's 1950-53 war and suspended discussions on forming a joint Olympic team with rival South Korea. The reunions had been a centerpiece of the hoped-for reconciliation between the two. But in a letter, a senior North Korean official accused the South of "abusing the humanitarian issue" and said not even reunions via video links would be permitted. Last week, South Korea halted food aid after talks with senior officials from the North collapsed.

Both towns in southern Afghanistan that had been seized by Taliban guerrillas earlier in the week were back in coalition hands, spokesmen said Wednesday. US Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick said there had been a "skirmish" with the Taliban outside the town of Garmser, but that coalition forces encountered no other resistance. He said the Taliban tactic of targeting remote communities that have limited protection and then retreating to strike again elsewhere can be overcome only by an Afghan security presence, which "has to be grown." A Taliban statement warned of "a manifold increase in mujahideen operations" in the days ahead.

Frightened residents fled coastal areas of Indonesia's Java island Wednesday as an aftershock rumbled through the region, swaying tall buildings as far away as Jakarta, the national capital. But seismologists said the temblor was relatively mild and deep and posed no threat of another tsunami. It came as authorities raised the number of dead from Monday's tsunami to more than 550; another 275 remained missing. Indonesian newspapers as well as guests at Java beach resorts questioned why there had been no warning of the Monday tidal wave, citing pledges to install early alert systems following the Dec. 26, 2004, quake and massive surge of water. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government would build a warning system there within three years.

An offer of amnesty was rejected Wednesday by leaders of the Chechen separatist rebels, who called it Russian propaganda and a "hopeless attempt to shroud the real situation ... in lies." The proposed amnesty followed the death last week of longtime rebel commander Shamil Basayev and carried with it a deadline of Jan. 1 to give his followers "time to contemplate their decision and ... return to peaceful pursuits for the well-being of the Motherland." Analysts said the rebuff suggested a split in rebel ranks, since their exiled "foreign minister" has called for peace negotiations with the Kremlin.

The Islamic militia expanding its control over Somalia announced plans to seize the base of the nation's weak but internationally recognized government. The government's headquarters are in Baidoa, 155 miles from Mogadishu, the capital, and the two sides are due to meet for peace talks this weekend. The militia already was reported to be less than 30 miles from Baidoa Wednesday, but a spokesman said that was to accept the surrender of clan fighters who previously had been rivals. In a related development, militiamen raided theaters in Mogadishu Tuesday night and arrested 60 people for watching videos. The incident was the second of its type in less than a month. Earlier, two people were shot to death in a raid on a theater that was showing a broadcast of a World Cup soccer game.

Heavy cranes were rushed to the scene of a collapsed four-story apartment block in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, Wednesday to help in the search for survivors. The Red Cross said at least 16 residents were killed and 36 others had been hospitalized. It was not known how many others were trapped under the rubble. Authorities blamed shoddy construction and promised an investigation.

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