Once again, a hitch has developed to stall North Korea's nuclear disarmament, its Foreign Ministry announced. A spokesman said the visit by UN nuclear experts that was to begin Monday "is on hold" because $25 million from a blocked bank account still can't be accessed. According to earlier reports, the money, which North Korea demands before it will shut its nuclear facilities, had been transferred successfully to another bank. Against that backdrop, senior US negotiator Christopher Hill made a surprise visit to the North to promote the resumption of six-nation talks on disarmament.

Missiles from Iran pose no threat to Russia, and Kremlin leaders "do not understand why" the US insists on building a defensive shield on such a "pretext," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday. In a new swipe at the proposed system, other senior Kremlin officials said "missile defense elements" that would be built in Poland and the Czech Republic "will have no other target" except military bases in western Russia.

Roadside bombings and other attacks killed 14 US soldiers in Iraq in two days, but the offensive against Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements is still going well, a senior Iraqi commander insisted. Hospital administrators in Baqouba said they were receiving the remains of "dozens" of militants killed in the crackdown. US and Iraqi forces also seized five weapons caches and destroyed bombs and booby-trapped houses, reports said.

Voice of Shariat, a clandestine Taliban radio station, has returned to the air in Afghanistan six years after going silent as the fundamentalist regime fell, the BBC reported. It said the station's signal reaches four southeastern provinces, carrying messages from fugitive leader Mullah Omar as well as Koranic verses and daily criticism of the Western presence in the war-torn country. A Taliban spokesman also told the BBC that its next "main target" is Kabul, the capital. But Afghanistan's defense minister chided the Taliban for "failing to materialize their so-called spring offensive."

Government troops freed 24 hostages being held by militants in Nigeria's oil region, a commander said Thursday. He said roughly a dozen militants were killed in a midnight raid, four days after a facility operated by Italian oil giant ENI was seized. The raid came despite new President Umaru YarAduna's initiatives to bring calm to the restive delta.

Prosecutors deepened the legal woes of exiled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, charging him with "official misconduct" in the purchase of prime real estate on favorable terms from a state agency. Although Thaksin has been ordered to return and face the charges, his attorney told the Bangkok Post he would not do so because "there are other ways to acknowledge [them]." The indictments came as Thaksin's $163 million bid to buy English soccer team Manchester City was accepted by its board.

Saying, "It was useless to continue," participants in the latest round of global trade talks declared them a failure. The talks were held in Potsdam, Germany, in an attempt to erase differences between rich and developing nations over farm subsidies and opening export markets wider.

Leaders of the Aboriginal community in Australia cried foul as Prime Minister John Howard announced plans to ban access to alcohol and pornography in an area where sexual abuse of children is rampant. The plan applies to the Northern Territory, although Howard urged Australia's six states to adopt similar restrictions, calling the problem "a national emergency." Aboriginal leaders called the move discriminatory and "patronizing."

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