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In brief: New Zealanders honor quake victims in two minutes of silence

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – Rescue crews switched off their jackhammers and joined in two minutes of silence observed across New Zealand today to mourn as many as 240 people killed in an earthquake exactly one week earlier.

Church bells tolled throughout the country at 12:51 p.m. to mark a national commemoration for those lost when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck the southern city of Christchurch.

Police said they have pulled 154 bodies from the wreckage, but said the number of those missing and feared dead indicates a final death toll closer to 240.

Texas grapples with wildfires

AMARILLO, Texas – Stunned and weary residents of a Texas Panhandle town were allowed to return to what was left of their homes on Monday, a day after fleeing one of several wind-driven wildfires that scorched some 190 square miles in the state.

The 30 destroyed homes in Mesilla Park were among at least 75 that burned statewide.

Firefighters battled blazes in the Panhandle and West Texas overnight, and crews were preparing Monday for new wildfires in the central and southern parts of the state, officials said.

Lawyer: Couple admits abduction

PLACERVILLE, Calif. – A Northern California couple charged with kidnapping Jaycee Dugard and holding her captive for 18 years have given full confessions to authorities, a defense lawyer said Monday.

Attorney Stephen Tapson, who represents defendant Nancy Garrido, said his client and her husband, Phillip Garrido, were re-interviewed by detectives during the past month. They acknowledged snatching Dugard, then 11, from a South Lake Tahoe street, then answered questions about the years they spent with her and her two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido, Tapson said.

Tapson characterized the disclosures as “full confessions.”

Talks under way to form government

DUBLIN, Ireland – Two former Irish opposition parties started talks Monday about forming a new government to tackle the daunting task of rebuilding an economy battered by reckless property speculation and bank lending.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, soon to be Ireland’s next prime minister, and his Labour Party counterpart Eamon Gilmore met for face-to-face talks in Dublin’s Leinster House on Monday. They’ve also named their negotiating teams for what both sides hope will be a quick deal to hammer out a stable government and workable agenda.

The initiative rests with Fine Gael, which has won 70 seats so far in the 166-seat lower house of Parliament after Friday’s national election.


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N. Korea, setting stage for talks, halts nuclear, ICBM tests

UPDATED: 10:03 p.m.

North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North’s announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal.