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World Briefs: Thousands protest against Osprey aircraft

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JAPAN

TOKYO —  Tens of thousands of people rallied Sunday against U.S. plans to deploy Osprey hybrid aircraft on a southern Japanese island amid renewed safety concerns.

The protesters -- as many as 100,000, according to organizers -- gathered at a seaside park on Okinawa to demand that the plan to deploy 12 MV-22 Osprey aircraft on the island be scrapped, saying they are unsafe.

The U.S. plans to deploy the Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, to replace older CH-46 helicopters that are already there.

Safety concerns boiled over after Osprey crashes in Morocco and Florida earlier this year. An incident in North Carolina last week that officials called a "precautionary landing" further aggravated the sentiment.

The tilt-rotor planes have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. says they have a solid record, and can fly faster and carry bigger loads than the CH-46, which is being replaced worldwide.

ETHIOPIA

Government opens talks with separatist rebels

ADDIS ABABA — The Ethiopian government and separatist rebels said they have started negotiations.

Ethiopian officials and representatives of the Ogaden National Liberation Front met in Kenya for peace talks last week, the rebels said in a statement Saturday.

Although the rebels said the peace process has been months in the making, it was not clear if negotiations gained momentum after the death of former leader Meles Zenawi, whose government considered the group a terrorist organization.

Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's communications minister, confirmed that peace talks are going on.

The rebels want to create an independent state in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, which is inhabited by mostly ethnic Somalis. The liberation front is blamed for an attack in 2007 on a Chinese-run oil field in which scores were killed in Ogaden.

IRAN

Currency falls to record low

TEHRAN — Iran's currency hit a record low against the U.S. dollar in street trading, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Sunday.

Mehr said the rial dropped nearly 7 percent in a single day, to 24,300 rials to the dollar. Street traders say the rial rose slightly later Sunday, to about 23,900 rials to the dollar.

The collapse of the currency is a sign of the effect of Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. The West suspects Iran is aiming to build nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

On July 1, the European Union banned import of Iranian oil, and the U.S. tightened sanctions against Iran's banks.

On Friday, Canada cut diplomatic relations with Iran over its nuclear program, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the country's poor record on human rights issues.

The governor of Iran's central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, said the plunge of the rial is the result of a rush on the market by buyers seeking to obtain the dollar, rather than other economic reasons.

FRANCE

President to unveil austerity plan

PARIS — Socialist President Francois Hollande was due to announce Sunday unprecedented belt-tightening measures of billions of dollars amid mounting discontent over the flagging economy and job cuts.

Mr. Hollande, whose popularity ratings have taken a dive less than four months after he took power, is looking vulnerable as he prepares to push through a deficit-cutting budget and face down union anger over mounting layoffs.

The Journal du Dimanche warned that Mr. Hollande -- who famously said he does not "like the rich" and has proposed a stinging 75 percent tax on income exceeding $1.3 million -- would announce "unprecedented" austerity measures.

It said the president would outline in an interview on TF1 television new taxes of $19 billion to $25 billion, as well as austerity measures that would save $11.3 billion.

CHINA

Quake survivors await supplies

BEIJING — Survivors of a series of earthquakes that killed 81 people and injured more than 800 in a mountainous area of southwestern China were desperately waiting for more aid to arrive Sunday as jolting aftershocks kept fears high and hindered rescue efforts.

The latest victim was a 2-year-old child who was hit by a falling wall as an aftershock struck Saturday night, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The first earthquakes struck Friday in a region of small farms and mines near the border between Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, where some of China's poorest people live. They toppled thousands of homes and sent boulders cascading across roads, and authorities evacuated more than 200,000 villagers.

The area was still being jolted by aftershocks Sunday, raising fears of more injuries and fatalities.

WEST BANK

Truck drivers block streets in protest

RAMALLAH — Dozens of Palestinian truck drivers blocked the main streets of Ramallah on Sunday to protest rising prices.

Nearby, about two dozen quarry workers also held a demonstration. The protests were the latest in a series of small but snowballing strikes against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority over rising prices and delayed payment of salaries to more than 150,000 civil servants.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinians in the West Bank, is suffering a budgetary shortfall because the U.S. and Arab countries that sustain it haven't paid all the aid money that they have promised.

Palestinian officials have done little to calm the protests, apparently hoping to show foreign donors the potential consequences of their fragile economy falling apart.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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