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World in brief

N. Korea accuses CIA of planning a surprise attack

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea warned Sunday of "nuclear disasters" around the world if Washington attacks the communist state, while its civilian leaders urged greater cooperation between Pyongyang and Seoul to ease the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused the Central Intelligence Agency of preparing a surprise attack on the nation's nuclear facilities that are suspected of being used to make atomic bombs.

"If the U.S. imperialists ignite a war on the Korean Peninsula, the war will turn into a nuclear war," Rodong said. "As a consequence, the Koreans in the north and south and the people in Asia and the rest of the world will suffer horrifying nuclear disasters."

The report, carried by the North's state-run KCNA news agency, claimed Washington put its forces around the peninsula on "semi-war footing" and "is pushing ahead with nuclear war preparations in full swing."

Washington has repeatedly said it has no plans to attack North Korea, but stresses that "all options are on the table."

In Seoul on Sunday, North Korea's religious and civic leaders took part in inter-Korean religious masses and urged greater cooperation between the two Koreas.

"Preventing war through national cooperation is the most urgent task of the nation," said Ri Mun Hwan, a senior North Korean delegate. "If war breaks out, the South cannot be safe and the entire nation will face disaster."

CASTRO OFFERS HELP: Fidel Castro offered on Sunday to mediate with North Korea over its nuclear program, though he acknowledged Cuba's ability to stem the growing crisis was limited.

In meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Castro said Cuba's influence with the North was constrained because the two have had little direct contact in recent years, a foreign ministry official.

Israel pledges assaults on Hamas

JERUSALEM -- Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, on Sunday pledged to step up assaults on Hamas militants on a day when three Palestinians were shot and killed in the Gaza Strip and Israeli media reported Hamas militants had plotted to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The violence coincided with Israel's new Cabinet taking office, seating a government that appears set to continue tough military measures to suppress the 29-month-old Palestinian uprising.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority asked Israel for travel permits for members of the PLO's Central Council and the Palestinian legislature -- the bodies that will determine the responsibilities of a Palestinian prime minister, the new position Yasser Arafat has reluctantly agreed to create.

Two Palestinians were killed in an overnight raid in the town of Khan Younis, in which Israeli forces destroyed buildings near a Jewish settlement. At the funerals of the two men later Sunday, a 9-year-old boy died from gunfire though it was unclear who shot him.

Hardline candidates win in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran -- Hardline candidates swept to victory in local Iranian council elections, the Interior Ministry announced Sunday, a reflection of public discontent with reformers' inability to initiate serious social and political change in this conservative Islamic state.

Voter turnout was high in many cities and villages throughout the country except in the capital, Tehran, where 10 percent of voters cast ballots, the Interior Ministry said Sunday.

Hardliners, who had not won in local elections in eight years, took 14 of 15 possible fixed seats on the Tehran City Council, even as large hardline groups effectively boycotted the polls, with lower-level hardliner candidates running independently.

Elsewhere . . .

ALGERIA WELCOMES CHIRAC: Hundreds of thousands of Algerians poured into the streets of Algiers Sunday to welcome Jacques Chirac, the first French president to make a state visit to the former French colony since its independence four decades ago.

Chirac's long-awaited, three-day trip was intended to support the North African nation's efforts to end a bloody Islamic insurgency. It also sought to heal old wounds from the war that won Algeria's independence in 1962, a war Chirac fought in.

SPEAR THAT KILLED EXPLORER UP FOR AUCTION: The spear used by a native Hawaiian to kill British explorer Capt. James Cook will be auctioned off in Scotland this month.

Edinburgh auction house Lyon and Turnbull said Sunday it expects the spear, which was fashioned into a walking stick and passed down through the family of one of Cook's fellow naval officers, to be sold for up to $3,200.

Cook made the first known Western contact with Hawaiians in 1778. He was killed on the island of Hawaii on Feb. 14, 1779, on his third expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, during which he discovered the Cook Islands, Christmas Island and some of the smaller Hawaiian Islands.

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