World briefs 10/2/03

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Food aid in North Korea sold on black market

SEOUL, South Korea -- International food aid sent to ease the suffering of North Koreans is being sold on the black market for high prices, according to video footage released Wednesday by Japanese and South Korean human rights activists.

The activists said the footage was secretly taken in September in Haesan, a North Korean town on the border with China.

It showed a marketplace where people were selling rice and other grains that the activists said was provided by South Korea, the U.N. World Food Program and other relief organizations.

Some of the grain sacks bore stamps that read, "Rice from the Republic of Korea," South Korea's official name.

There was no immediate way to independently verify the authenticity of the video footage and the activists' claim.

U.S. military denies Taliban comeback

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military said Wednesday that rebels were not making a comeback in Afghanistan, nearly two years after U.S.-led forces began efforts to oust the Taliban, despite the deaths of five U.S. soldiers in the past six weeks.

"Whenever the Taliban manifest themselves in Afghanistan, we kill them," military spokesman Col. Rodney Davis told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

He said the toll of U.S. soldiers killed in fighting since the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, was low.

According to U.S. military figures, 36 have died in combat. The latest was Pfc. Evan O'Neill, who was killed Monday.

First lady talks of freedom, celebrates reading

MOSCOW -- Laura Bush saluted the joy of reading Wednesday with giggling Russian schoolchildren -- and added for the grownups as well as the kids that a celebration of books is as much about freedom as fun.

At a book festival hosted by Lyudmila Putin, the wife of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. first lady said events such as these -- modeled after ones Mrs. Bush holds in the United States -- have a purpose beyond lauding "books and reading and great writers."

"This festival is also a celebration of freedom, the freedom to write what we want to write and to read the books we want to read," she said at the opening session of the festival held in a convention hall just across the Moscow River from the Kremlin.

China makes it easier for couples to say 'I do'

BEIJING -- Marriage in China used to be a matter for a man, a woman -- and the couple's employers. No longer.

On Wednesday, China eliminated a much-resented requirement for couples to obtain their bosses' approval before tying the knot, prompting thousands of couples to wed in what, for some, was also a celebration of the retreat of outside interference in their private lives.

Couples lined up as early as 5 a.m. outside marriage registration offices. Restaurants and hotel banquet halls were booked solid in major cities, and Beijing's streets were clogged with flower-bedecked motorcades.

"Employers in work units used to have a lot of power over people, but now there's no need," said newlywed Wen Ying, who was having a late-night snack with her new husband and friends at a small restaurant near the Forbidden City, Beijing's ancient imperial palace.

Ireland to ban smoking from all workplaces

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Ireland will ban smoking from all workplaces, including pubs, in January despite rising opposition from lawmakers and business owners, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Wednesday.

"The primary purpose of the prohibition is to protect workers and members of the public from toxic environmental tobacco smoke," Ahern told Ireland's parliament.

Ahern was responding to a question asking whether he still supported his health minister's determination to enforce a nationwide ban starting Jan. 1.

On Tuesday night, more than a quarter of the 81 lawmakers from Ahern's Fianna Fail party appealed for the deadline to be extended and for pubs to be allowed to retain smoking areas.

-- From wire reports

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