Negotiators from six nations opened the latest round of talks on North Korea's nuclear program Thursday, conceding that verification of all facets the latter has declared "will take months." Amid an overall climate of cautious optimism, however, analysts advised the participants in Beijing not to expect "smooth sailing," predicting that the North would employ new stalling tactics until the next US president has been inaugurated.
Reinforcements from Lebanon's Army took up positions between rival Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Tripoli Thursday even though a new cease-fire largely had driven gunmen from both sides off the streets. But casualties from the fighting earlier this week continued to mount as a fifth victim died of his wounds. The violence came as Prime Minister Fuad Siniora struggled to cobble together a unity government in time for a conference on Mediterranean issues that President Michel Suleiman will attend Sunday in Paris.
On Saturday, the militant group responsible for many of the attacks on Nigeria's oil industry will end its two-week-old cease-fire, a spokesman announced. He said the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's decision was prompted by a pledge by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to "give help to the Nigerians to deal with the lawlessness that exists in this area."
At least some of the pressure on Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to quit was expected to ease after he announced Thursday that he'll turn over power to his deputy "by the middle of 2010." Abdullah has been under fire since his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) absorbed heavy losses in the March general election, leaving it with a narrow majority in parliament. Opposition leader and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has made no secret of his aim to topple the government this fall by encouraging defections in UMNO ranks.
A new round of highway blockades was to begin Thursday by farmers in Argentina as the nation's Senate opened debate on a controversial set of grain export tax increases. Organizers also called a mass demonstration for next Tuesday in Buenos Aires, the capital, on the eve of the projected vote on the hikes. The lower house of Congress already has approved them. The issue has roiled relations between farmers and President Cristina Fernandez's government for four months.
In another in a series of moves to ease controls on Cubans, the government will allow private taxis to operate for the first time since 1999, state radio reported. Operators will be given free gasoline but must follow specific routes and charge only fixed fares, it said. The report didn't specify how many licenses would be issued. Illegal taxis fill gaps in Cuba's patchy public transportation system, but drivers who use their cars for that purpose have risked arrest, fines, and confiscation of the vehicles.
Contractors were given one week to fix the damage caused by a sinkhole that halted work Wednesday on South Africa's $3.2 billion high-speed rail line, a key infrastructure project for the 2010 World Cup soccer finals. The line will connect Pretoria, the capital, with Johannesburg's Tambo International Airport, the busiest on the continent. The World Cup, one of sport's most prestigious events, has never before been held in Africa.
Author Salman Rushdie said Thursday he was "absolutely delighted" that his novel, "Midnight's Children," was voted the best in the 40-year history of the Booker Prize, perhaps the most prestigious award in literature. "Midnight's Children" won a Booker prize in 1981, the year it was published.