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Briefly

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hard-liners win in Northern Ireland

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Hard-liners on both sides won Northern Ireland's election, final results confirmed Friday, setting the stage for a major diplomatic push to forge a Catholic-Protestant administration of bitter enemies. Hard-line Protestants of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party finished first with 36 seats in the 108-member Northern Ireland Assembly, ahead of the major Catholic-backed party, Sinn Fein, which won 28 seats. Trailing far behind were moderate Protestants and Catholics -- who championed the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 and led a power-sharing administration that collapsed nearly five years ago amid incessant Protestant-Sinn Fein conflict. The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, called on the Democratic Unionists to forge a joint administration with Sinn Fein by March 26 -- even though Paisley still refuses to even talk with Sinn Fein officials.

Portuguese parliament liberalizes abortion law

LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal's parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalize abortion up until the 10th week of pregnancy, a major step bringing this small Roman Catholic nation in line with most of its European neighbors. The Thursday night vote came less than a month after a popular referendum failed due to low turnout, but nonetheless showed that most voters were in favor of legalizing abortion. By European standards, the new law is still on the restrictive side. Women can seek abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy in Britain and up to the 12th week in Germany, France and Italy. Portugal, a dictatorship until 1974, has gradually liberalized during 20 years of membership in the European Union, pushing much of its legislation into closer line with the continent's older democracies.

U.S. claims progress against Afghan opium

VIENNA, Austria -- The international community is making significant strides toward ridding northern Afghanistan of opium, a U.S. counternarcotics official said Friday, despite setbacks in the Taliban-controlled south and forecasts of another record year of poppy cultivation. Tom Schweich, the U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary for international narcotics, said rapid assessment surveys conducted earlier this year showed a "dramatic" decrease in poppy growing in Afghanistan's northern provinces. But Schweich conceded the situation remains bleak in southern Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation is up 10 to 50 percent in a half-dozen key provinces -- feeding concerns that the country is swiftly becoming a narco-state.

Uranium talks founder between Iran, Russia

MOSCOW -- Talks between Russian and Iranian nuclear officials over delayed payments for nuclear fuel destined a Russian-built power plant ended Friday without apparent resolution, and each side suggested the other was negotiating in bad faith. The vice president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammed Saeedi, said his country was ready to provide more funds to enable the September launch of the Bushehr plant. He called on Russia to deliver uranium fuel this month, as earlier agreed. But a Russian official familiar with the negotiations between the countries said Iranian officials refused to sign a document promising the increased payments, and the official indicated Russia would not ship uranium fuel this month as expected.

Survivors of WWII Tokyo firebombing sue

TOKYO -- Survivors of the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo during World War II and bereaved family members sued the Japanese government on Friday for $10.3 million, alleging it did not assist victims in the aftermath. Friday's action is the first group lawsuit of its kind seeking damages from a wartime air raid in Japan, Japanese media said. The raid on March 10, 1945, incinerated wide areas of the capital and killed 100,000 in a single night of fire. The group filed the suit in Tokyo District Court, court spokesman Yoichi Sakamoto said. He refused to provide any other details.

-- From wire reports


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