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World in brief

Afghan election may be delayed

By wire services
Published February 16, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has begun suggesting that Afghanistan's elections scheduled for June may have to be postponed because of security problems and the failure to register enough voters.

The New York Times quoted unnamed administration officials as saying in recent days that security conditions remain dangerous or at least uncertain in a third of the country, hampering registration so badly that only 8 percent of eligible Afghan voters have been enrolled. Among women, only 2 percent have registered.

The United Nations has said at least 70 percent of eligible voters should be registered for the elections to be considered successful. That leaves only four months to achieve a daunting objective at a time when registration workers are avoiding large swaths of the country that are considered unsafe. Afghanistan has about 10.5-million eligible voters.

Report: U.S. to be firm on N. Korea arms

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to take a tough stance in upcoming six-nation talks over the North Korean nuclear crisis, barely sweetening a position taken at the last round of negotiations six months ago that Pyongyang must agree to irreversible and verifiable dismantling of its nuclear programs and weapons, the Washington Post reports, quoting unnamed administration officials.

Under the administration's negotiating strategy - which was broadly decided at a meeting of President Bush's senior foreign policy advisers - officials would reject North Korea's offer to freeze its nuclear facility at Yongbyon as woefully inadequate. Moreover, the newspaper reported, U.S. officials plan to stress that North Korea must also fully disclose and dismantle a separate program, identified by U.S. intelligence, to produce highly enriched uranium.

Snowfall paralyzes much of Mideast

AMMAN, Jordan - A rare storm dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of the Middle East, breaking power lines in Lebanon, collapsing a wall at a holy site in Israel and delaying talks between Israelis and Palestinians. At least one person was killed.

In the capital of this desert kingdom, snowmen lined the streets of Amman on Sunday, and children sledded on plastic tubs and bowls.

Icy roads prompted Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to postpone a round of talks scheduled for Sunday, aimed at preparing a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Queria. No new date was set. Palestinian ministries were shut Sunday.

In Jerusalem, heavy snow caused an old wall to collapse on the ramp leading to the Temple Mount, a site holy to Jews and Muslims. No one was injured. Prayers in the adjacent women's section at the Western Wall were canceled.

Elsewhere . . .

RUSSIAN ROOF COLLAPSE: Russian rescue workers pumped warm air into the ruins of an indoor water park Sunday, hoping the heat would help victims survive freezing temperatures a day after a roof collapse killed at least 25 people and injured more than 100. As many as 17 people remain missing, presumably buried under the debris of the Transvaal Park on Moscow's southwestern outskirts, officials said. By Sunday night rescuers called off the search and stopped heating the rubble, said Viktor Starostin, spokesman for the Moscow branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

FATAL FIRES IN CHINA: A fire at a crowded shopping mall killed at least 53 people Sunday in Jilin, a city about 590 miles northeast of Beijing, while 39 died in a blaze in a temple in Wufeng, a village in southeastern China's Zhejiang province, state media said. The fires added to a string of deadly accidents despite repeated government vows to improve public safety.

[Last modified February 16, 2004, 01:31:39]

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