Hundreds of earthquake survivors were being treated in hospitals in Pakistani Kashmir for cold-related illnesses as the first heavy winter snows engulfed the region and an aid official warned that some people still are without shelter or sufficient clothing. Jean-Philipe Bourgeois of the International Organization for Migration said relief efforts have shifted to providing survivors with food when the need for tents remains equally critical. The UN bought and stockpiled a half-million tents for Kashmiris, but one-third of them have yet to be delivered, a spokeswoman said. International donors have pledged more than $6 billion since the devastating quake struck Oct. 8, but much of the money is earmarked for reconstruction efforts. An estimated 87,000 people were killed in the quake or have died since.

Addressing parliament for the first time as chancellor, Angela Merkel vowed that Germany will not be "blackmailed" by Islamist terrorists who hold one of her countrywomen hostage in Iraq. The kidnappers of archaeologist Susanne Osthoff have demanded that Germany stop all dealings with Iraq's fledgling government. In a wide-ranging speech, Merkel also said she was confident that the US would promptly address European concerns about alleged secret CIA prisons for suspected terrorists and repeated her desire for improved relations with the US, which became strained under her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. She also called for legislators to "release the brakes on growth" because of the sluggish German economy and 11 percent unemployment rate.

The number of men killed in China's latest coal mine explosion has risen to 161, authorities told the official Xinhua News Agency. Ten others remain missing since the blast in Heilong-jiang Province Sunday. At the same time, public health officials confirmed another outbreak of bird flu, the 25th since mid-October. Addressing criticism that China has covered up the spread of the virus, Health Minister Gao Qiang said he was not worried about hiding outbreaks but rather "the inability of our medical ... personnel at the local level to diagnose and discover epidemics in a timely fashion" due to limited training and "backward equipment."

In an unprecedented step, two female candidates were voted to seats on the board of governors of the Jeddah Chamber of Trade and Industry, making them the first women to win elective office in Saudi Arabia, reports said. At that, the chamber had to be ordered by the government to reverse its original decision rejecting the nominations of women candidates. Voting was held last weekend. New King Abdullah has pledged to promote the status of women, but they weren't allowed to run or vote in the nation's first municipal elections earlier this year.

An angry President Hugo Chávez accused three opposition parties in Venezuela of conspiring with the US to destabilize the country after they dropped out of this Sunday's election for a new National Assembly. The Democratic Action Party, Project Venezuela, and the Social Christian Party alleged Tuesday that the National Elections Council had tilted conditions to ensure that Chávez supporters would increase their already sizable majority. Four other small parties remain committed to taking part in the election, a BBC journalist in Caracas reported.

Despite an earlier declaration that the presidential election in Honduras had been won by opposition candidate Manuel Zelaya, incomplete returns released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal suggested that the race remains too close to call. It was not clear why the vote-count was taking so long, since balloting took place last Sunday. But the tribunal said late Tuesday that only 28 percent of the votes had been tallied and that Zelaya was 1 point behind Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the candidate of the ruling National Party. Monitors from the Organization of American States said they'd remain in Honduras until the final results were announced.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.