Amid sharpening rhetoric against an expected long-range missile launch by North Korea, the communist state finally mentioned the subject Monday on an evening news broadcast. But it cited only third-party commentary calling concerns that the missile could reach targets in the US "unconfirmed speculation." Meanwhile, intelligence gathered from surveillance satellites suggested that fueling of the Taepodong 2 was complete, which would give the North Koreans a one-month window for the test launch. The US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand all have warned that such a launch would result in serious consequences for the North.
Persistent news reports said Japan's leader will announce today that he'll order his nation's troops home from Iraq, beginning immediately. The reports continued even after Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Monday that he had yet to decide the matter. Japan has 600 unarmed soldiers in southern Iraq on a humanitarian mission – its first overseas deployment since World War II. Responsibility for security in the province where the Japanese are working will be assumed next month by Iraq's own forces for the first time, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.
An appeal to resume peace negotiations was issued by Sri Lanka's government Monday, after the latest spike in violence brought it and Tamil separatist rebels closer to all-out civil war. The government said it was open to direct talks with representatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or to discussions that would be mediated by the Norwegian facilitators who brokered the 2002 cease-fire. LTTE spokesmen could not be reached for comment. But in an interview with Reuters, the chief of its political wing vowed that the rebels would use "any strategy to defend themselves" in the event of war – to include detonating explosive belts in crowds of Sinhalese, the majority population.
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's foreign and defense minister, was turned down by a rebel leader Monday on his request for an immediate surrender of weapons. Ramos-Horta went to the rebel base in the hills 20 miles outside Dili, the capital, to ask that Vincente da Concecão and his followers comply with President Xanana Gusmao's order to hand over all weapons. Da Concecão, however, said they'd give them up only to Gusmao himself and then only after a guarantee of security. Other rebel units already have complied with the order.
Embattled Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian was expected to decline the option of a written rebuttal to opposition efforts to remove him from office. In a speech to the nation scheduled for Monday night, aides said he wouldn't mention the recall campaign, focusing instead on his accomplishments in office. Under the Constitution, he has until today to submit a defense in writing to the Legislature, which is considering whether to hold a referendum calling for his ouster on grounds of corruption. According to results of an opinion poll by the China Times newspaper, 53 percent of respondents viewed him as unfit to continue in power.
In ceremonies on a remote Norwegian island, the cornerstone was laid Monday for a vault to house millions of the world's crop seeds under conditions that should protect their genetic makeup for thousands of years. The $4.8 million project duplicates seed banks elsewhere in the world, but many of those are potentially vulnerable to plant epidemics, natural disasters, closure due to lack of funding, or even nuclear war. By comparison, the Svalbard Global Vault, which is scheduled to open late next year, will be protected by thick concrete walls, with permafrost ensuring that the temperature never rises above freezing.