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World in brief

North Korea test-fires missile, Japan says

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2003

TOKYO -- North Korea test-fired an antiship cruise missile into the Sea of Japan today, the second in less than a month, Japan's Defense Agency chief said.

Shigeru Ishiba said the missile didn't appear to target any country.

"We don't think this will have any significant impact on our national safety, but we are monitoring it closely," he told a parliamentary session.

U.S. officials had sought to minimize the significance of a previous missile test, saying it involved a small weapon and not one of North Korea's stockpile of long-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea has repeatedly accused the United States of plotting an attack, and says its military maneuvers are defensive.

The nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a covert nuclear program in violation of a 1994 deal. Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments; the North retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarting a nuclear reactor.

Malta voters say yes to joining European Union

VALLETTA, Malta -- Malta voted in favor of joining the European Union in a referendum tallied Sunday, the first popular test among 10 nations invited to become EU members next year.

According to official, hand-counted results, 53.65 percent, or 143,094 Maltese, voted yes, with 46.35 percent, or 123,628, voting no -- a narrow margin reflecting concerns that joining the EU might jeopardize this island nation's fiercely prized independence.

The outcome of Saturday's vote was watched closely by EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and the nine other candidates seeking to join the 15-nation bloc amid fears that enthusiasm for an expanded Europe was flagging.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said the result bodes well for ratification in other countries.

"This is a choice for stability and growth, as well as for the peaceful reunification of Europe and the European people," Prodi said.

Slovenia's referendum is next, on March 23.

Arafat says he'll retain control of security forces

JERUSALEM -- Yasser Arafat will retain control of security forces and peace negotiations even after his deputy Mahmoud Abbas is appointed prime minister, a senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press Sunday.

The deal would sidestep key reform demands by Israel and the United States that Arafat hand over authority to a powerful prime minister and retain only a ceremonial role. The countries have banned their officials from meeting with Arafat, charging that he has not taken steps to stop Palestinian violence.

Protesters disrupt voting in Mexico's largest state

SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, Mexico -- Protesters wearing ski masks and waving machetes demolished voting booths and fought with authorities Sunday during municipal elections in Mexico's largest state.

More than 8-million voters were choosing 124 mayors and 45 lawmakers in the state that borders Mexico City.

There were no reports of serious injuries. Polls opened without incident in the rest of the state.

2 killed as gunmen seize Philippine bus, then flee

MANILA, Philippines -- Unidentified gunmen seized a passenger bus and several other vehicles in the southern Philippines on Monday, and two people were killed before the gunmen escaped, authorities said.

The bus was traveling between Cotabatao City and Davao on the southern island of Mindanao at about 6:30 a.m. when gunmen fired on it and took about 40 passengers hostage, said Farida Malingco, mayor of the town of Pikit.

Army Col. Carduzo Luna said a soldier in civilian clothes was shot in the head. The soldier could have been a bus passenger, Luna said.

About two hours into the siege, the gunmen fled as security forces approached the bus, Malingco said.

A progovernment militiaman was killed and five villagers were wounded as troops chased the attackers, a local radio reporter said. The attackers were not captured immediately.

Malingco said the rest of the hostages were unharmed.

Nauru's president dies

Nauru President Bernard Dowiyogo has died in a Washington hospital after a heart operation Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Pacific island nation said today.

Nauru, about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has a population of about 12,300 on an island of 8 square miles.

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