World

Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn

The next 48 hours will be critical in diplomatic efforts for the release of 15 Britons seized by Iranian forces, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday. Against that backdrop, an Iranian diplomat taken at gunpoint by men in uniform in Iraq Feb. 4 was freed, and Iraq's government said it was working "intensively" for the release of five other Iranians arrested by US forces in early January. Analysts suggested that both developments were likely to cause Iran to look more favorably on the idea of freeing the 15 Britons.

With thousands of protesters massing outside, embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko handed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych his decree on dissolving parliament and said he'd permit no attempt at interference by the military in the crisis. Yushchenko also set a May 27 election for a new legislature. The pro-Russian Yanukovych said the decree was a "fatal mistake," urged legislators to keep working, and threatened to force a new presidential election.

The first emergency teams arrived in the Solomon Islands to help survivors of the earthquake and tsunami that battered the South Pacific archipelago Monday. The first priorities, officials said, would be to restore communications, then treat the injured and distribute food and supplies. At least 27 aftershocks were reported, forcing thousands of residents to remain on high ground for safety and causing authorities to warn of additional tsunamis.

Saying his government won't "budge an inch," Peruvian President Alan Garcia ordered the military to bomb and strafe clandestine cocaine laboratories and airstrips used to ferry the drug out of the country. He announced the move Monday, a day after ending the suspension of a program to eradicate coca-growing. Without mentioning neighboring Colombia by name, he warned of "an insurgency like the one in a brother country" if Peru doesn't "kill the drug- trafficking danger now."

Members of leftist President Evo Morales's cabinet in Bolivia will have 30 days "to move forward with negotiations" on nationalizing the leading telephone service provider, a spokesman said. The company, Entel, had been state-owned until the mid-1990s, when control was sold to Telecom Italia. Morales already has nationalized the oil and gas industry, a tin smelter, and a water utility, and is believed to be planning to seize the mining industry.

On the 25th anniversary of its failed attempt to seize the Falkland Islands, Argentina reasserted its claim to them. But Vice President Daniel Scioli said Monday his country wouldn't resort to force again and would seek to regain the islands through negotiations with Britain. The two sides fought a costly 73-day war over the South Atlantic archipelago in 1982 before Argentina surrendered.

A couple who defied developers in southwestern China lost a three-year battle to keep their house Monday night when workmen demolished it. The structure had stood alone in the midst of a massive construction site as the couple were the last in a Chongqing neighborhood to make way for a redevelopment project. Their campaign attracted global attention as a symbol of China's struggles with the concept of private property. They were awarded a new apartment elsewhere in the city, plus $130,000 in compensation for their losses and moving expenses.

Its passenger cars transformed into a data-gathering center, France's TGV bullet train streaked to a world record for speed Tuesday. The train hit 357.2 m.p.h. on a run between Paris and Strasbourg – 37 m.p.h. faster than the previous record, which also was set in France 17 years ago. But the TGV fell short of the 361 m.p.h. record for speed on land set by Japan's magnetically levitated bullet train, which does not touch its rails.

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