The first high-level discussions between the two Koreas in nine months opened in Seoul, with the North's chief delegate calling them "positive" and a senior official from the South saying "the overall atmosphere was not bad." Still, no new agreements should be expected, and progress on such issues as resuming rail service between the countries and more reunions for families divided by their 1950-53 war likely will be difficult, the South Korean official said.

Hamas will announce "within days" whether it accepts a Palestinian Authority proposal to end human bombings and other attacks inside Israel, a spokesman said. But on condition of anonymity, a senior Palestinian suggested that Hamas's answer might well be "no," because it "is scared of losing credibility" if it abandons its hard-line position. Thirteen Palestinian factions have been attempting to forge a united position on confining future attacks to the West Bank and Gaza as a possible spur to new negotiations with Israel.

All necessary inspections for weapons of mass destruction ended four years ago, Iraq's Information Ministry maintained in its strongest rejection yet of US and UN demands for a resumption of the activity. The declaration followed a tour offered to journalists Sunday of an abandoned facility that was a suspected biological-agent production site. Iraqi officials say it was a vaccination laboratory for livestock.

A state of emergency was declared by new President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, allowing his government to increase security measures against leftist rebels and to raise taxes to help cover the associated costs. The decree is effective for 90 days and can be renewed for 180 more. Uribe acted after 115 people died last week in rocket and bomb attacks timed to his inauguration. Revolutionary Armed Forces guerrillas are blamed for them.

"Even the stooges" who oppose his hard-line rule will share in the food that Zimbabwe is importing to cope with its growing shortages, President Robert Mugabe said in his annual Heroes Day address. His regime has been accused of denying food to people who voted against him in last March's disputed election. Without specifying their fate, Mugabe also vowed that 2,900 white farmers who defied his order to surrender their properties to landless blacks by last Thursday would be off the land "by the time the rains come" – usually meaning November.

Picturesque Salzburg, Austria, was declared a disaster area and Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, braced for its worst flooding in more than a century as continued heavy rains swept across Europe. Authorities put the number of deaths due to the weather at 70 – 58 of them in Russia's Black Sea region.

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