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In brief: Quake toll at 146; 200 still missing

Christchurch, New Zealand – Residents held open-air prayers for the dead and missing today on the lawns of churches cracked and shattered in New Zealand’s earthquake while teams searched for more bodies in what could become the country’s deadliest disaster.

The death toll rose to 146, with officials citing “grave fears” for the more than 200 still missing and Prime Minister John Key warning that last week’s 6.3-magnitude quake could be the country’s worst disaster, surpassing a 1931 temblor that killed 256 people.

When the quake ripped through the city last Tuesday, the city’s churches were among the hardest-hit buildings. Among them was the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, at the heart of the city, which suffered massive damage, its bell tower in ruins and 22 people potentially lying dead inside.

Panel proposes election reforms

Cairo, Egypt – A constitutional reform panel on Saturday recommended opening Egypt’s presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents – a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades.

The changes are among 10 proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum later this year. The proposals appeared to address many of the demands of the reform movement that helped lead the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.

The most important of the eight-member panel’s proposals would greatly loosen restrictions on who could run for president, opening the field to independents and candidates from small opposition parties.

A candidate would be allowed to run by doing one of three things: collecting 30,000 signatures from 15 of Egypt’s 29 provinces; receiving the approval of at least 30 members of the elected parliament; or representing a party with at least one lawmaker in parliament.