The chief of the UN nuclear agency arrived in North Korea Tuesday for the first step in a process that is supposed to result in closure of the latter's Yongbyon reactor and weapons program. Mohmmad ElBaraedei said he hoped his agency and the North Koreans can "work closer ... after many years of estrangement." The North has until April 14 to seal Yongbyon in return for aid under a deal agreed to in the latest round of multinational negotiations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made his first visit to Ramadi, one of the most volatile cities in the Sunni heartland, in what analysts said was an apparent move to show willingness to deal with regions other than Baghdad. Tuesday's trip was unannounced, although Maliki was accompanied by reporters. He met with local officials, among them a Sunni sheikh who has led a tribal alliance against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

His own Latin American tour complete, fiery Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez flew home late Monday, calling President Bush "the representative of the cruelest, most terrible, most cynical, most murderous empire ... in all of history." In a bid to upstage Bush, Chávez's route included stops in Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Haiti and discussions of millions of dollars worth of aid. Bush, by contrast, resisted all appeals to refer to Chávez by name during stops in five nations.

In yet another move to undercut a planned US missile-defense system in eastern Europe, Russia is developing a next-generation air-defense system, a senior commander said. Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said its technology would "significantly surpass" the capabilities of Russia's current system. The Kremlin repeatedly has blasted the US proposal to site parts of a new antimissile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which it considers to be inside its former sphere of influence.

Six mortar shells fell on the presidential palace in Somalia Tuesday, killing a child but leaving chief executive Abullahi Yusuf unhurt. He had moved to the capital, Mogadishu, only hours before from his government's base in Baidoa. Remnants of the Islamist militia driven from power earlier this winter by Ethiopian troops also exploded a roadside bomb as a motorcade carrying the city's deputy major passed by. Two aides died in that attack.

Thousands of communist rebels in Nepal remain at large and have not surrendered their weapons, their leader admitted. But Prachanda (the leader's nom de guerre) said Tuesday his followers do not intend to disrupt the peace process. Worry has been growing over appearances in public by armed rebels. Under the peace accord with the government late last year, they were given six weeks, beginning in mid-January, to turn in their weapons at UN collection sites and report to 28 special camps set up across the nation.

A runoff election was scheduled for March 25 in Mauritania after none of the 19 candidates for president won a majority of the ballots in last week's voting. The Interior Ministry said former government official Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi led with 25 percent of the vote. Opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah was second, with 21 percent. Turn-out for the nation's first free election since achieving independence in 1960 was 70 percent, the ministry said.

Opposition to same-sex marriage by the Roman Catholic Church is "not negotiable," Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday in releasing the results of a synod at the Vatican two years ago. He also reaffirmed a policy that denies communion to Catholics who've been divorced and then remarried. In addition, the synod upheld the requirement for celibacy by priests, calling it "an immense blessing" despite the shortage of clergymen in several parts of the world.

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