International news roundup

Staking out a new bargaining position for the incoming Obama administration, the communist regime in North Korea said Tuesday it will not give up its nuclear weapons until “the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea is gone.” The US and South Korea deny that a nuclear arsenal is based on the latter’s soil. The North has sent signals that it wants good relations with an Obama-led US, among them seeking the OK to attend his inauguration.

Returning opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe will not be granted a meeting with President Robert Mugabe because his request wasn’t made through the proper channels, reports said. Tsvangirai, who has spent almost two months in neighboring Botswana, had sought to discuss issues blocking formation of a power-sharing government. The two men haven’t spoken since last Sept. 15.

Singing and dancing, residents of Somalia’s capital celebrated the departure Tuesday of Ethiopian Army troops (some of them above) from two bases they’d used in supporting the weak transitional government. But analysts cautioned that the small peacekeeping force of African Union soldiers that remains in Mogadishu is incapable of standing up to the Islamist militias who once again control much of the country.

Two more foreign-owned ships and their crews have been freed by Somali pirates since midday Monday. One, a Korean vessel, was en route to Oman, where the crew would be debriefed and then flown home as replacements arrived. A Turkish ship bound for India with a cargo of chemicals also was released. It was not known whether ransoms were paid in either case. Pirates in the region have freed four vessels since early last week.

A new stimulus plan, worth $66 billion, was agreed to Tuesday by the parties in Germany’s coalition government. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the package of tax cuts, credit guarantees, lowered health insurance rates, and financial incentives to buy energy-efficient vehicles, would “release energy” into the economy, Europe’s largest. The plan is the second of its type in three months.

A high-profile investigation was ordered by Kenya’s government into allegations that millions of bags of imported corn have been diverted from a famine-relief program and sold in neighboring Sudan. A spokesman for the Anti-Corruption Commission pledged that the findings would be made public and “appropriate action taken.” The government, which has declared a state of emergency because of drought, says 11 million of Kenya’s 34 million people confront “food insecurity,” in part due to last year’s postelection violence.

A strategic US airbase in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan will be closed by midsummer, reports said. But confirmation by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s office was not immediately forthcoming, and the US Embassy declined to comment. The base was established in 2001 to support US operations in the war in neighboring Afghanistan and still serves to resupply American forces there. But it is unpopular with many Kyrgyz and has drawn protests from the Kremlin, which also has a base in the republic.

Environmental activists led by Greenpeace and film star Emma Thompson said they’ve bought 2-1/2 acres of land in the path of a proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport outside London. Heathrow’s existing runways operate at 99 percent of capacity, and expansion is considered vital to the future of the British economy. The Labour government is expected to OK the new runway plus another terminal later this week. But the activists vowed to “fight all the way” to block the project, which they say would cause unacceptable air and noise pollution and require the taking of hundreds of private homes. Above, strips of cloth placed by the activists spell out their slogan on the parcel.

– Compiled from the wires

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