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AROUND THE WORLD

> SYRIA

Opposition takes steps for a national council

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's fragmented opposition took steps toward forming a national council Tuesday, but serious divisions and mistrust among the members prevented them from presenting a unified front against President Bashar Assad's regime more than five months into the country's uprising, participants said.

Syria's opposition has made unprecedented gains against the regime, but there is no clear leadership or platform beyond the demands for Assad to step down. With Assad's forces cracking down on the protests, the overall death toll has reached 2,200, the United Nations said.

A group of opposition members have been meeting in neighboring Turkey in recent days, but participants gave conflicting reports about exactly what emerged. Obeida al-Nahhas told the Associated Press that a council had been formed, but the details were still being completed; others said there was no council to speak of yet.

Activists said Tuesday that Syrian security forces killed at least seven people Monday in the central city of Homs.

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> GERMANY

Two men missing in Afghanistan

BERLIN (AP) -- Two Germans are missing in Afghanistan and may have been kidnapped, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Tuesday.

Local officials told the Associated Press that both men had been missing for four days.

Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin that German and Afghan officials are "intensively" searching for the pair.

Westerwelle refused to give any further details, but Gen. Sher Ahmad Maladani, police chief of Afghanistan's northwestern Parwan province, said both men were working for an aid organization.

He told the AP that the two traveled to the south end of the Salang Pass, north of Kabul, around 8 a.m. last Friday. He said they told their driver that they were going to go into the mountains and would return at 4 p.m. The driver waited there until 6 p.m. and then contacted local authorities to report that they had not returned, Maladani said.

Germany has been a major contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and currently has some 5,200 troops stationed in the country.

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> CHILE

Two-day shutdown called for nationwide

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chile is bracing for a nationwide, two-day shutdown as unions, students and a center-left coalition of political parties demand fundamental changes in society.

They want to replace Chile's dictatorship-era constitution with a new charter that enables popular referendums and makes free education a right for all citizens. They also want pension reforms, a new labor code and more investments in health care.

Chile's largest union coalition, representing about 13 percent of the workforce and many government employees, called the strike for today and Thursday to join forces with boycotting students. The strike also is supported by the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years before President Sebastian Pinera brought the right wing back into the presidential palace last year. Public transportation workers and providers of state-run day care also said they would strike.

"It's painful to see those working so hard to paralyze Chile," Pinera complained Tuesday.

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