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Japan Spots Chinese Ships Near Contested Islands

Japan says four Chinese government ships entered waters near contested Tokyo-controlled islands in the East China Sea, as a territorial dispute between the two Asian giants drags on.

Japan's Coast Guard said the Chinese surveillance vessels spent several hours within a 22-kilometer zone surrounding the islands Thursday. It said this is the first time in three weeks that Chinese ships have entered the zone, which Japan considers its territory.

Russia: Syrian Rebels Have US-Made Anti-Aircraft Weapons

Russia’s senior general says that rebels in Syria have acquired shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles, including a model made in the United States. General Staff Chief Nikolai Marakov says that officials need to determine who supplied the weapons to Syria’s opposition.

Interfax news agency quotes General Nikolai Marakov as saying "that militants fighting Syrian government forces have portable missile launchers of various states, including American-made Stingers.”

He did not make any direct accusation of how the rebels acquired the weapons.

Tokyo Confirms Talks with China on Island Dispute

Japan says it is engaged in talks with China to resolve a territorial dispute that has disrupted ties between the two Asian powers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Wednesday confirmed reports that Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai secretly met last week with senior Chinese officials in Shanghai. He said the talks were part of Tokyo's effort to continue to communicate with Beijing "at various levels" regarding the island dispute in the East China Sea.

Political Winter Descends on Russia

As gray winter skies descend on Moscow, Russians are adjusting to a political winter. Since taking office nearly six months ago, President Vladimir Putin has methodically reduced civic space in Russia by advocating new laws on treason, blasphemy, libel, Internet censorship and curbs on public protest.

Then on Monday, Russians saw a new twist: a well-known opposition activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shouting to reporters that he had been kidnapped off a sidewalk in Kyiv, Ukraine, and forcibly brought to Moscow for trial.

Iran-UAE Island Dispute Could Escalate

Together, Abu Musa, Greater Tunbs and Lesser Tunbs amount to fewer than 26 square kilometers of sand and scrub. But their location in the middle of Persian Gulf shipping and tanker lanes near the Strait of Hormuz gives the islands huge strategic importance.

Spanish Police Break Up Major Chinese Crime Ring

Spanish police said they have broken up a major Chinese criminal operation that illegally shipped Chinese products to Spain for distribution throughout Europe.

Spanish police chief Ignacio Cosido said Wednesday authorities detained 83 suspected members of a crime syndicate in nationwide raids on homes and businesses the previous day. The suspects include 58 Chinese nationals, 17 Spaniards and eight other foreign nationals.

Colombian Government, FARC to Launch Peace Talks in Oslo

Representatives of the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] rebels are meeting Wednesday in Oslo for peace talks aimed at ending Latin America's oldest insurgency.

The talks in the Norwegian capital are the first between the two sides in a decade. They are expected to set the stage for a second phase of negotiations to take place in Cuba, which will focus on such issues as political rights and drug trafficking.

Cuba and Norway are serving as mediators for the talks.

EU Imposes Toughest Sanctions Against Iran

European Union governments Tuesday imposed their toughest sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. EU and U.S. officials say sanctions are vital to curbing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. But some analysts say the sanctions have failed to do that and are causing Iranians to suffer as the value of Iran's currency plummets.

Shuttling across the narrow Strait of Hormuz are Iran's high speed smugglers.

Using boats equipped with 200 horsepower engines, they take goods - everything from luxury perfume to livestock - from Oman across to Iran, avoiding import duties on the way.

Burmese President Retains Party Leadership

Burma's president will hold onto his role as leader of the ruling party, despite concerns heading into the 2015 general election.

"The Party President is President Thein Sein, all the EC members agreed to this," said Union Solidarity and Development Party spokesperson Htay Oo. "The Vice Presidents are Thura U Shwe Mann, myself and Thura U Aye Myint — all together there's three."

Heading into the party vote Tuesday in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw, there had been talk the military-backed USPD might replace Thein Sein with his main rival, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann.

39 Arrested in French Heroin Bust

French authorities say police have arrested 39 people in a sting on an Albanian and Kosovar heroin trafficking network.

Japan Reports Chinese Ships Near Disputed Islands

Japan says it has spotted seven Chinese naval ships near one of its islands, as tensions between the two Asian powers remain high over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Japan's Defense Ministry says the Chinese ships were spotted early Tuesday by Japanese aircraft about 50 kilometers outside Yonaguni Island, Japan's westernmost island.

The ministry said the ships were in the contiguous zone, an area just outside Japan's territorial waters in which Japan has certain rights under international law.

U.S. Continues to Send Nonlethal Aid to Syrian Opposition

The United States will continue to funnel nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition, and urges the international community to unite against Bashar Assad’s regime, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

The State Department is providing $100 million worth of nonlethal aid to those seeking to overthrow Assad. The opposition in Syria rose after protestors brought down long-term regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Turkey Bans Syrian Passenger Planes From Its Airspace

Turkey says it has banned Syrian passenger planes from Turkish airspace in the latest sign of growing confrontation between the two neighbors.

Turkish authorities announced the ban on Sunday, four days after intercepting a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus and confiscating what they said were military supplies on board.

Ankara has accused Damascus of using civilian airliners to bring in weapons for Syrian troops fighting an 18-month rebellion, and has vowed to prevent Turkish airspace from being used for such purposes.

Chavez Says He Will Continue to Speak Out Against Imperialism

President Hugo Chavez's election victory appears to mean that relations between Venezuela and the United States will remained strained. Chavez has been a fierce critic of the U.S. while nurturing friendships with U.S. adversaries like Cuba, Iran, and Syria, and his first news conference after his election seemed to reinforce some of those positions.

First news conference

North Korea Says Its Rockets Could Hit Continental US

North Korea is warning that its rockets are capable of striking the continental United States, two days after Seoul said it signed a deal with Washington to allow South Korea to extend the range of its ballistic missiles.

A spokesperson for the North's National Defense Commission said in state media Tuesday Pyongyang has "strategic rocket forces" that can hit not only the mainland U.S., but also American military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam.