A slow-moving storm front closed in on the launch site for North Korea's missile program, apparently delaying for the time being the test that Western governments have warned against conducting. But in what he said was his regime's official line, Foreign Ministry spokesman Li Byong-dok argued Tuesday that the North considers itself no longer bound by any prior agreements not to carry out a long-range missile test. North Korea and Japan agreed in 2002 on a test moratorium. Meanwhile, published reports said the US has activated its missile-defense system and is considering intercepting the North Korean launch if it takes place.

Al Qaeda claimed its new leader in Iraq slit the throats of two US soldiers whose remains were found Tuesday near a power plant south of Baghdad. The claim, in a posting on an Islam-ist website, could not be authenticated. The two had been missing since a terrorist attack on the checkpoint they were manning last Friday. The development came as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced his nation's 600 unarmed troops in Iraq would return home by the end of next month. Their mission, Japan's first overseas military deployment since World War II, has not been popular domestically.

The leaders of Israel and the Palestinians will meet Thursday for breakfast in neighboring Jordan, sources said. But it was unclear whether the session would generate any momentum to resume peace negotiations, since Israel's Ehud Olmert has said meaningful talks cannot be held until the Hamas-led Palestinian government renounces its calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, residents of Sderot in southern Israel shut down their city Tuesday to protest the government's inability to stop the launching of rockets by Palestinian militants in the nearby Gaza Strip.

Tamil rebel attacks were repulsed at a Navy base and a Buddhist shrine in northern Sri Lanka, military spokesmen said Tuesday. The incidents came as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) wrote to the Nordic monitoring mission, recommitting themselves to the 2002 cease-fire and pledging to ensure the safety of its members. Earlier, they had demanded that the monitors leave after the LTTE was designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union. The military spokesmen accused the attackers at the shrine of trying to provoke a backlash by the nation's Buddhist majority. Most Tamils are Hindu.

Taking his opponents' arguments point by point, Taiwan's president denied any wrongdoing in a TV address defending himself against recall efforts. The Legislature is scheduled to debate Wednesday whether to hold a referendum on ousting him. Chen Shui-bian appealed to lawmakers to spend less time on political feuding and more on improving Taiwan's competitive- ness. But he repeated a pledge to resign if his wife is found guilty of accepting favors from a leading department store.

Another in a series of violent antigovernment protests erupted in Bangladesh's capital, with thousands of people trying to break through barricades set up in the streets, only to be repelled by baton-swinging police and clouds of tear gas. At least 50 participants were reported injured in Dhaka, with a similar number hurt in demonstrations in other cities. The opposition alliance of 14 political parties had urged the demonstrators to march to the national Election Commission to demand that its top officials be fired for failure to implement voting reforms. Unpopular Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's term expires in October, and a general election is scheduled for next January.

Carrying out raids of "extraordinary importance," police in Palermo, Sicily, arrested at least 45 people with suspected Mafia connections – 13 of them believed to be heads of "families." The raids Tuesday came two months after the capture of Bernardo Provenzano, the so-called "boss of bosses," and were carried out to prevent what authorities said appeared to be an impending civil war over who would succeed him. Senior police officials in Palermo cautioned, however, that the latest arrests do not mean that Sicily's Mafia "has been dismantled."

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