A chorus of protest greeted the announcement by North Korea that it will conduct an "essential" test of its nuclear weapons. No date was specified. The North said the test is necessary because of "the US threat of aggression" but that it would take place "under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed." Rival South Korea, which held talks on military issues with the North Monday, immediately upped its national security level. Japan's new prime minister called the North Korean plan "unforgivable." Britain's Foreign Office warned of "serious consequences." In Washington, the State Department said the test would be "an unacceptable threat to peace and stability."

A proposal by Iran that its program of uranium processing be taken over by France is "something we have to analyze in greater detail," the European Union's foreign policy chief said. Javier Solana discussed the idea by telephone Tuesday with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, a conversation he called "constructive." French officials offered no immediate comment on the proposal, which would involve the work taking place on Iranian soil to satisfy Western demands for outside oversight of the enrichment program. Traveling in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the international community will have no choice but to sanction Iran if its enrichment of uranium does not stop.

The path appeared clear for South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon to become the next secretary-general of the UN after he was the only candidate to pass a fourth and final straw vote of Security Council members. Each of his five rivals attracted at least one "no" vote Monday from the permanent council members, which hold veto power. Formal balloting is scheduled for next Monday. Outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan's term expires Dec. 31.

The cancellation of air, rail, and postal service between Georgia and Russia, imposed Monday in their latest bilateral dispute, will remain "for the time being," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Rejecting appeals by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for the sanctions to be lifted, Lavrov said Georgia's leaders must understand that they cannot "insult" Russia with impunity. The cutoff of mail service has the potential to do particular harm since almost one-sixth of Georgia's annual income comes from cash transfers sent home by its nationals who work in Russia. The rift began when four Russian Army officers posted in Georgia were detained for spying.

Hopes rose for a revival of the peace process between Sri Lanka's government and Tamil separatist rebels after the latter agreed Tuesday to return to negotiations. Norwegian mediator Jon Hanssen-Bauer said the rebels were willing to go to Oslo for talks Oct. 28-30. A government spokesman called the announcement "positive." Negotiations scheduled for last April fell through, with each side blaming the other for increasing violence, which has since escalated to the brink of all-out civil war.

In a handwritten letter, ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra resigned as leader of his political party, effectively ending the hopes of his supporters that he might yet return to power. From exile in London, Thaksin said he was quitting to "preserve the future of everyone who loves the [Thai Rak Thai] party," which once appeared an unbeatable force in national politics. The party was to announce its future plans later Tuesday.

An immediate inauguration ceremony was to take place in Zambia for President Levy Mwananasa after the Supreme Court certified his reelection Monday night. But his chief challenger, millionaire populist Michael Sata, accused him of "successfully stealing the vote" from last Thursday's election, vowed to contest the outcome in court, and warned that he'd "put up a big battle inside parliament and outside parliament." The Electoral Commission said Mwana-nasa won 43 percent of the vote and Sata 29 percent.

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