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U.S. military exercises are a prelude to war, N. Korea says

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea cannot remain "a passive onlooker" while the United States conducts military exercises in the region, the North said Sunday, claiming Washington is pushing a nuclear crisis toward a second Korean War.

While vowing to counter any military attacks, Pyongyang also said it wants to avoid war and reiterated its demand for direct talks with Washington.

"The DPRK cannot remain a passive onlooker to the U.S. intensified military moves as they are a dangerous military racket to ignite the second Korean War," North Korea's official newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Sunday. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

The U.S. military said the annual Foal Eagle exercises, which end April 2, are defensive and not related to the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Rebel leader declares himself president of Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic -- Rebels in the Central African Republic captured the capital Sunday, and their leader declared himself president of the coup-prone nation and dissolved the legislature.

Rebel leader Gen. Francois Bozize also suspended the constitution.

In a state radio address introducing him as "head of state," Bozize said his fighters seized power "because of the mismanagement of the country and its inability to carry out its domestic responsibilities."

The rebels began their attack on Bangui on Saturday while President Ange-Felix Patasse was visiting Niger. Patasse then flew to Cameroon, where he remained Sunday at a hotel under tight security.

Sunday's elections . . .

FINLAND: The opposition Center Party edged out the Social Democrats in elections for the Finnish parliament Sunday, results said, but may not have the partners to form a government.

With all votes counted, the Center Party took 55 seats, or 27.5 percent, and the Social Democrats 53 seats, or 26.5 percent, in the 200-member parliament.

But the Conservative Party, part of a coalition with the Social Democrats in the last parliament, had 40 seats, meaning Center Party leader Anneli Jaatteenmaki might not be able to break up the previous alliance. That likely would keep Paavo Lipponen as prime minister.

LIECHTENSTEIN: Liechtenstein's ruling prince dropped his threat to leave the country Sunday after winning an overwhelming majority in favor of overhauling the constitution to effectively give him more powers than any other European monarch.

Results showed 64.3 percent of the electorate voted for Prince Hans-Adam II's proposed constitution giving him the right to dismiss governments and approve judicial nominees. The prince had threatened to move to Austria if he lost the referendum.

Elsewhere . . .

REBELS KILL 9 INDIAN OFFICERS: Suspected Islamic rebels attacked a police post in the Udhampur district of Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing nine police officers and two civilians, police said Sunday.

5 KILLED ON INDIAN BUS: Suspected separatist rebels in India triggered a land mine under a passing bus Sunday, killing five passengers and wounding 45 others in the Goalpara district of the northeastern state of Assam.

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