SYRIA

Government says it's ready for role in peace talks

Syrian state-run TV said Saturday that the government is prepared to take part in peace talks hosted by Russia next month, but the unnamed foreign ministry official it cited suggested the scope of the negotiations would be limited to "preliminary" talks meant to pave the way for a conference held in Syria itself.

The official was quoted as saying the government was "ready to participate in preparatory, advisory meetings in Moscow" that would "answer the aspirations of Syrians to find an exit from the crisis."

Russia's Foreign Ministry had said Thursday that it hoped to host peace talks after Jan. 20 between the Syrian government and its fractured opposition. The nearly four-year-old conflict has claimed more than 200,000 lives, displaced a third of Syria's population, and nurtured an extremist group, the Islamic State, which now rules over vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Russia is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it is unclear whether any of the country's opposition groups will attend talks. - AP
MALAYSIA

Thousands are evacuated

Malaysia evacuated more than 130,000 people as the worst floods in decades left at least five dead. More than 330 were displaced in the southwestern state of Negeri Sembilan Saturday, bringing to eight the number of states affected by the heavy rainfall that began 10 days ago, according to state news agency Bernama. The five dead included a toddler who was swept away by currents after falling from her mother's arms on their way to a relief center, AP reported. - Bloomberg
JAPAN

Cabinet approves stimulus

Japan's cabinet on Saturday approved about 3.5 trillion yen ($29 billion) in fresh stimulus, including subsidies and job creation, to help pull the world's third-largest economy out of recession. The cabinet endorsed the plan proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as it wrapped up work for 2014. It includes 420 billion yen ($3.5 billion) earmarked for helping stagnant regional economies. Abe took office for a third term on Wednesday and faces strong pressure to do something to restore growth after a sales tax hike in April put Japan back in recession.

- AP