North Korea's nuclear weapons program topped the agenda as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum opened Thursday. En route to the meetings in Vietnam, President Bush warned the North against transferring any element of that program to other countries, which he said the US would regard as a "grave threat." Against that backdrop, French authorities were inspecting a North Korean cargo ship at the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte. Meanwhile, the US agreed to speed up deployment of the Patriot defense system around strategic targets in Japan that are within range of the North's missiles. In Seoul, South Korea, demonstrators protested the promotion of industrial and tourism programs that reward the North while it pursues "[leader] Kim Jong Il's nuclear game."
A tense calm returned to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, after police and UN peacekeepers quelled protests against the announcement that President Joseph Kabila had won the Oct. 29 runoff election. His challenger, Jean-Pierre Bemba, vowed to contest the outcome, which still must be confirmed by the Supreme Court. No casualties were reported after Thursday's violence, but police made several arrests.
Islamist militiamen fired into a crowd of protesters in Somalia's capital Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding others, witnesses said. The protest erupted over a ban by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) on smoking khat, a popular narcotic. The incident was reminiscent of the reaction to earlier protests against the closing of movie theaters. The UIC is aiming to bring all of Somalia under strict sharia law, but some Somalis say such practices are causing growing disillusionment.
Tamil sepratist rebels made no immediate reply to a new request by Sri Lanka's president that they give up their weapons and "work toward promoting peace, democracy, and development." In an address to parliament, Majinda Rajapakse repeated the request – which always has been rejected in the past – on grounds that fighting between the rebels and government troops has forced a 45 percent rise in defense spending. A British envoy working with both sides on implementing a peace process said Thursday, "The war absolutely cannot be won by either."
March 7 was announced as the date of elections for a new Northern Ireland Assembly as the British government appeared to back down from its threat to disband the legislature if Protestants and Catholics don't agree next week on a plan for sharing power. The plan requires both sides to accept certain conditions, but neither has been willing to go first. Instead of dissolving the 108-seat legislature next Friday, as threatened, plans now call for a transitional assembly that would serve until Jan. 31, when campaigning opens for the election.
A four-page notice published in Zimbabwe's government-run >newspaper invited more than 1,000 white ex-farmers to seek compensation for the seizure of their properties. It called the invitation "a matter of urgency." But many of those farmers left the country after their lands were confiscated for redistribution to poor blacks seven years ago, and the association that represents them questioned the government's ability to pay. Major food shortages have resulted from the seizures, and some whites recently have been asked to return and resume farming.
Rioters were urged to return home in Tonga's capital after the government gave in to such demands as a new national election. But much of Nukualofa was scarred by violence, with cars overturned, stores looted and burning, and smoke hanging in the air. The trouble began when parliament recessed until next year without voting on a package of reforms, such as the direct election of all legislators. The violence caused cancellation of commercial flights, and Australia's government was considering whether to send police reinforcements to restore order.