S. Korea: North may talk

SEOUL — North Korea said Friday that it understands the need to resume the stalled international talks on ending its nuclear programs, and that it agrees to work with the United States to narrow unspecified "remaining differences."

The statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry was the first reaction from the communist nation to three days of high-level talks with President Barack Obama's special envoy. Upon returning from North Korea on Thursday, envoy Stephen Bosworth made similar remarks in Seoul that the two sides reached common understandings on the need to restart the nuclear talks.

Though the North stopped short of making a firm commitment to return to the negotiating table, its reaction appears to be positive and raises hope that the stalled disarmament process could resume.

Argentina: Torture trial

BUENOS AIRES — A former navy spy goes on trial Friday in the torture deaths of two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group that he infiltrated during Argentina's military dictatorship.

Known as the blond "Angel of Death" for his choirboy looks and reputed ruthlessness, former Capt. Alfredo Astiz is accused of playing a key role in the 1976-83 military junta's effort to eliminate leftist dissidents and suspected sympathizers.

To infiltrate the rights groups, a youthful Astiz posed as the brother of one of the thousands of Argentines who were abducted and presumably killed by security forces at clandestine torture centers.

Astiz is among 19 former members of the navy who are being tried as part of the long-awaited "megacase" involving abductions, tortures and murders inside Argentina's Navy Mechanics School. Human rights groups say more than 5,000 political prisoners passed through its torture chambers. Less than half survived.

Austria: Same-sex unions

VIENNA — Austria's parliament passed legislation Thursday allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, a move hailed by proponents as a historic win for gay rights in the country.

The bill, slated to become law Jan. 1, will give same-sex couples many of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts, including access to a pension if one partner dies and alimony in the event of a split.

"We are living in the 21st century and I'm very glad this step is being taken today," Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner said during parliamentary debate.

Philippines: Hostages

MANILA — Government-armed former militiamen have freed nine out of 57 hostages they seized in the remote southern Philippines, and are demanding that murder charges against them be dropped before releasing the other captives.

Government negotiator Josefina Bajade says the released villagers include eight women and a man. Hours after Thursday's kidnapping, Bajade persuaded the gunmen to free the 17 schoolchildren and a woman among more than 70 people they initially held.

Police say they were trying to arrest two brothers among the gunmen on murder charges. One of the brothers, Joebert Perez, told reporters today the charges are fabricated and blamed a rival clan for the killings, demanding that police disarm the rival clan before the rest of the hostages are released.

Mexico: Journalists unite

MEXICO CITY — Mexican journalists have formed an advocacy group in response to attacks on reporters.

The group is called the Reporters' National Front in Defense of Freedom of Expression and was announced Thursday by journalists from several Mexico City and Puebla newspapers and two magazines.

It says it will create a system for journalists to report attacks and will work to defend reporters and offer them legal advice. It also plans publicity campaigns to promote appreciation for the work journalists do. At least eight journalists have been killed in Mexico this year, according to the National Center for Social Communication. Several international media groups call Mexico the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists.