BEIRUT

Bombing in Damascus kills 25, leaves dozens wounded

A bomb exploded Friday at a busy Damascus intersection, killing 25 people and wounding dozens in the second major attack in the Syrian capital in as many weeks, officials said.

The government blamed “terrorists,” saying a suicide bomber had blown himself up in the crowded Midan district. But the country’s opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

It was impossible to determine the exact target of the blast, but a police bus was riddled with shrapnel and blood was splattered on its seats, according to Syrian TV video and a government official.

The bomber “detonated himself with the aim of killing the largest number of people,” Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar told reporters.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand

Hot air balloon crashes, killing all 11 people aboard

A hot air balloon crashed and killed all 11 people aboard near a rural New Zealand town some 94 miles north of the capital of Wellington, officials said today.

Police confirmed multiple deaths when the balloon crashed, with two people leaping from the burning basket. Neither survived the fall.

Police Superintendent Mike Rusbatch said it appeared the balloon struck power lines that set a fire on board, causing the balloon to crash in farmland.

There were five couples on board from the Wellington region, and the pilot.

Witnesses told of seeing high flames rising from the balloon’s basket before it plummeted to the ground.

Bevan Lambeth said the basket was on fire “and the power lines were holding the basket down, but it was still about 165 feet in the air. Then the whole basket started to go up in flames,” as the balloon broke clear of the electric lines.

CARACAS, Venezuela

About 400 women join suit over faulty breast implants

About 400 Venezuelan women sued companies that sold faulty French-made breast implants Friday, demanding the companies cover their medical expenses.

The group is seeking a court order to cover expenses including surgeries to replace the defective implants and other treatment, said Emilia De Leon, one of the lawyers.

Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader announced last month that women could have the implants removed free of charge at public hospitals, but the government would not pay to replace them.

De Leon said Friday that the government’s offer isn’t sufficient and the women who are suing want the Venezuelan Medical Federation to agree to waive doctor’s fees for replacing the implants. The breast implants were manufactured with non-medical grade silicone by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese, or PIP. In some cases, women have had the implants removed after they ruptured.

The court order, if approved, would apply to five Venezuelan companies that sold the implants, said Gilberto Andrea, another of the lawyers.

LIMA, Peru

Van der Sloot appears set to confess to killing woman

Joran van der Sloot appears ready to accept responsibility for killing a Peruvian woman five years to the day after the disappearance in Aruba of U.S. teenager Natalee Holloway, for which he remains the prime suspect.

The Dutch citizen sought and received more time to decide how to plead as his trial opened Friday in the May 30, 2010, murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, whom he met at a Lima casino. He said he was inclined to confess but doesn’t accept the aggravated murder charges the prosecution seeks.

The 24-year-old Dutch citizen had repeatedly shaken his head as the prosecutor described for the judges how Van der Sloot allegedly “brutally” beat and strangled the victim in his Lima hotel room.

SANTIAGO, Chile

Chile backs off removing ‘dictatorship’ from books

Chile is backing off a controversial plan to remove the word “dictatorship” from school textbooks in reference to the military government of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

President Sebastian Pinera’s new Education Minister Harald Beyer sparked a political uproar when he discussed the plan Wednesday, which was publicized in a local newspaper. He suggested grade-school students be taught a more “general” term by calling the 1973-1990 rule of Pinochet a “military regime.”

Sen. Isabel Allende, whose father Salvador Allende was ousted in Pinochet’s coup, called the change “unacceptable.”

“It goes against common sense, because the entire world knows that during 17 years what Chile had was a ferocious dictatorship with the most serious human rights violations, where there was no parliament, where there was no liberty, where there was persecution, murders and disappearances,” Isabel Allende said. “I don’t want to return to that epoch – I want things to be called what they are.”

— From news service reports