World digest 05/10/03

Dozens feared dead after rear door of plane lost

KINSHASA, Congo -- The rear door of a cargo plane burst open over Congo, hurling dozens of soldiers, their wives and children to their deaths while others survived by clinging to the aircraft as it returned to the airport, officials said Friday.

There was confusion over the death toll. Two officials at the international airport told The Associated Press that 129 people were feared dead. Later, a third official estimated the casualties were about half that, saying the exact figure may be difficult to determine because of an incomplete manifest.

The plane lost its door at 33,000 feet about 45 minutes after takeoff Thursday night from Kinshasa, the capital of the central African nation, said government spokesman, Kikaya Bin Karubi.

It was not immediately known why the door came open.

Australia probes N. Korea role in heroin shipment

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Detectives are trying to establish whether North Korea's reclusive communist government played a role in a multimillion-dollar heroin shipment intercepted in Australia.

Graham Ashton, the federal police officer leading the investigation, said Friday the entire crew of the North Korean-owned ship Pong Su sought consular assistance and refused to speak to police about the shipment of 110 pounds of top-grade heroin, worth $50 million.

Police holding the Pong Su's crew of 25 North Koreans and four other Asian nationals on drug smuggling charges have sent Pyongyang a list of questions they want answered about the shipment seized last month.

North Korea has denied any government involvement.

Hard-liners veto more power for Iran's president

TEHRAN, Iran -- In a major setback to Iranian reformists, the hard-line Guardian Council used its authority over parliament to veto a bill that would have given more power to President Mohammad Khatami, Iranian state television reported Friday.

The veto is part of the power struggle between conservatives and the reformist Khatami, whose program of social and economic change has been thwarted by the Guardian Council and its conservative allies.

The council, which is not elected, has the right to veto all bills passed by parliament.

Report: India tests new air-to-air missile

NEW DELHI, India -- India test fired its new Astra air-to-air missile from a ground launcher on Friday, according to local press reports.

Sources at the Defense Ministry said another test was scheduled within the next two days, according to the Press Trust of India.

India has said it has a fixed schedule of missile tests for its growing weaponry and routinely denies they are connected to other events, although often India and Pakistan conduct weapons tests a day apart.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they became independent nations in 1947.

On Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said he would not accept Pakistan's offer for mutual destruction of nuclear arsenals.

Japan launches probe to take asteroid samples

TOKYO -- A Japanese rocket lifted off Friday on the world's first mission to collect samples from the surface of an asteroid, part of a four-year journey covering nearly 400 million miles.

If successful, the "Muses-C" will be the first probe to make a two-way trip to an asteroid.

The probe is to make three brief contacts with the tiny asteroid 1998 SF36, about 180 million miles away from Earth.

It's going to take the Muses-C about two years to get there, but the asteroid -- only 2,300 feet long and 1,000 feet wide -- is among the Earth's closest neighbors.

-- From wire reports