Western intelligence services are watching carefully what they believe are negotiations between North Korea and Iran to trade the latter's oil for newly enriched plutonium, The Sunday Times (London) reported. It said the US, in particular, views the matter with such gravity that it has begun "a concerted diplomatic and covert effort" to block any deal. An assured supply of North Korean plutonium would thwart the international campaign against Iran's nuclear ambitions by enabling the country to build bombs using an alternative to the uranium it enriches itself. The US believes Iran already is sharing information on missile-testing with North Korea in exchange for nuclear technology, the Sunday Times said. The report came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers of other UN Security Council members gathered in London for a key meeting Monday on prodding the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the council for the possible imposition of sanctions.

Another outburst in the courtroom by ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Sunday led to another delay in his trial for crimes against humanity. The new chief judge of the tribunal hearing his case in Baghdad postponed further proceedings until at least Wednesday, depending on the exact starting date of the Islamic New Year, after Hussein and his codefendants were removed by guards for refusing to be quiet. Raouf Abdel-Rahman also told defense lawyers as they, too, walked out that they would not be allowed to return. The lead attorney demanded that the trial be moved outside Iraq "to put an end to this farce."

A grower of coca was sworn in over the weekend as deputy minister for social defense in Bolivia, the post responsibile for the enforcement of narcotics-trafficking laws. Coca is the base ingredient in the production of cocaine. Felipe Cacares's apppointment was seen as a bow to the growers who helped propel new leftist President Evo Morales to power. Morales, himself a grower, opposes US-backed efforts to eradicate Bolivia's coca crop, although he has offered to join the international anti-trafficking fight.

Rescue crews were awaiting a decision to bring in heavy equipment to help in the search for people trapped under a collapsed exhibition hall in Poland Sunday. But hopes of finding any survivors in the subzero weather appeared dim. At least 66 people died and 160 others were hurt in Katowice when the roof fell onto a crowd attending a pigeon-racing fair Saturday. The attorney for the building management company disputed claims that the collapse was due to heavy snow, saying workmen regularly removed accumulations. Earlier this winter, roofs collapsed onto an indoor pool in Russia and a skating rink in Germany, also resulting in heavy loss of life.

The first natural gas supplies in a week were flowing from Russia to the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia Sunday, although rancor between the two remained at a high pitch. The latter's government, which has sought to diminish Russian influence in favor of the US, accused authorities in Moscow of deliberately delaying repairs to the pipeline that connects their countries after a mysterious explosion Jan. 22 knocked it out of commission. Temperatures that plunged to minus-18 degrees F. and a massive electricity blackout compounded the misery for Georgians. Russian officials angrily deny the accusation, blaming the explosion on sabotage.

With the outcome appearing too close to call, voters across Finland went to the polls Sunday for a runoff election between leftist incumbent President Tarja Halonen and conservative challenger Sauli Niinisto. Halonen, the nation's first woman chief of state, held a 22-point advantage in the first round of balloting Jan. 15 and appeared headed for a relatively easy victory before Niinisto, a former finance minister, narrowed her lead in late opinion polls. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who finished third in the initial vote, threw his support to Niinisto.

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