World

Two of the "foreign extremists" killed in a US missile strike on a Pakistani border village last week are believed to have been an Al Qaeda expert in bombmaking and poisons and a son-in-law of the organization's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, intelligence sources said. The explosives/poison expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, was under a $5 million bounty from the US government. He is believed to have trained the attackers who killed 17 Americans aboard the warship USS Cole in Yemen five years ago. Intelligence experts were studying the timing and significance of an audiotape purportedly recorded by Osama bin Laden that was broadcast on Al Jazeera Thursday. It warned of preparations for new attacks in the US but also offered a truce that was conditional on the pullout of American troops from Iraq. Bin Laden's last audiotape was heard in December 2004.

Prospects for a resumption of negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program appeared to improve amid word that diplomats from three of the participants had met in Beijing. The session took place earlier this week on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit there, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. He said the US was represented by senior envoy Christopher Hill and North Korea by negotiator Kim Kye-gwan. The six-nation talks were scheduled to resume early this year after adjourning last November. But North Korea has said it sees no point in returning because of US economic sanctions that have severely reduced its sources of foreign currency.

A Palestinian posing as a peddlar exploded a bomb Thursday in a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing himself and wounding at least 15 Israelis. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, the first of its type since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hospitalization for a stroke. It also came a week before Palestinians are to vote for a new parliament. An Israeli government spokesman called it "another example of the utter refusal of the Palestinian Authority to take any steps to prevent terror."

Suspicion fell on Tamil rebels for two more in a growing series of attacks against Sri Lanka's military forces. The incidents, involving exploding antipersonnel mines, killed four people and hurt 25 others and came as parliament voted to extend the national state of emergency - and as new President Mahinda Rajapakse met with representatives of all political parties to try to form a consensus on resuming peace negotiations with the rebels, who seek autonomy for the Tamil region. Norwegian mediators, who brokered the 2002 truce between the two sides, are due to meet with them separately next week in what is seen as a last-ditch effort to prevent a resumption of civil war.

Their nation's prestige at a new low, voters in Portugal appear ready to elect conservative ex-Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva as their president Sunday. Late opinion polls suggest he'll win more than 50 percent of the ballots against his two closest rivals, former President Mario Soares and legislator Manuel Alegre - both Socialists. Despite the current government's reform agenda, Portugal is last, or close to last, among European Union members in such areas as unemployment, productivity, and wages. The presidency is largely ceremonial but still carries weight in shaping economic and social policy.

Sixty thousand tons of fuel oil were released from Russia's strategic reserves to help residents of St. Petersburg cope with extreme cold that has held much of the nation in a vise this week. In Moscow, temperatures dropped to minus-31 degrees F. Wednesday night, the lowest for that date in 79 years. The use of electricity in the capital was reported at three times the rate in Los Angeles on a hot summer day. The thermometer in the Evenk Autonomous Area of Siberia read minus-70 F. Authorities said at least 31 people had died of exposure.

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