Nation/world digest 02/04/04

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

North Korea agrees to nuclear talks this month

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea agreed Tuesday to resume six-nation talks Feb. 25 -- a breakthrough in American-led efforts to persuade the communist state to abandon its nuclear weapons programs for economic and other concessions from Washington. The new round of talks is expected to take up North Korea's offer to freeze its nuclear programs as a first step toward what the Bush administration hopes will be a complete dismantling of them.

GOP considers spending freeze on some programs

WASHINGTON -- Conservative Republicans are weighing the possibility of freezing federal spending next year for government activities outside defense and homeland security after President Bush proposed a budget projecting a record $521 billion deficit in 2004. House Budget Committee chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday that rank-and-file members made it clear that they want to see the government's spending rate decline. Nussle quickly added that there is no consensus yet.

Report: Slain priest was put in wrong prison unit

BOSTON -- Prison guards harassed pedophile priest John Geoghan and wrote trumped-up disciplinary reports that landed the former clergyman in the dangerous-inmate unit where he was strangled and beaten in August by a fellow prisoner, a report released Tuesday found. Investigators said a series of "overzealous and unwarranted" reports by a handful of guards led to the frail, 68-year-old Geoghan being classified as a dangerous prisoner. Geoghan was the priest at the center of the Boston Archdiocese's clergy sex abuse scandal.

Damaged Asian terror network regrouping

BALI, Indonesia -- Damaged but still dangerous, an al-Qaida linked Southeast Asian terror network is regrouping with the help of porous borders, rising fanaticism and new recruits, officials told The Associated Press. Forced further underground by a police crackdown, dependent on couriers and broken into isolated cells, Jemaah Islamiyah is becoming less predictable, officials said. Cabinet ministers and other officials from 33 nations -- including U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft -- meet here today and Thursday to discuss expanding the anti-terror fight.

Florida girl's abduction caught on videotape

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The FBI joined the search Tuesday for an 11-year-old girl whose apparent abduction was videotaped by a car wash surveillance camera, and the youngster's parents pleaded for her safe return. Carlie Brucia was seen on videotape being led away by a man as she took a shortcut behind a closed car wash on her way home from a friend's house Sunday night. The sheriff's department is working with the FBI and state law enforcement authorities.

WHO warns against panic over bird flu outbreak

GENEVA -- The U.N. health agency sought Tuesday to dampen fears of bird flu striking large numbers of people, even as the death toll climbed to 13. "It's very important at this stage that we remain calm about worst-case scenarios," said Mike Ryan of the the World Health Organization. "What we're dealing with at the moment is small clusters of cases." Asia's bird flu crisis topped the agenda at a three-day meeting beginning Tuesday at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Experts hope to work out strategies for tackling the outbreak.

Opportunity rover snaps microscopic photos of soil

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Opportunity rover took the first microscopic photographs of the Martian soil, which scientists believe could contain evidence that the now-dry planet once was a wetter world capable of sustaining life. The pictures, released Tuesday, show a coin-sized patch of grainy soil peppered with tiny pebbles. Opportunity captured the images with its microscopic imager, one of four instruments at the end of its robotic arm.

Iran's supreme leader opposes election delay

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's supreme leader opposed postponing Feb. 20 elections, siding with hard-liners in a crisis that has paralyzed the nation's political system. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the country's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, during talks Tuesday that elections must be held as scheduled, lawmaker Rajabali Mazrouei said. How elections could proceed Feb. 20 remained uncertain amid boycott calls over the Guardian Council's disqualification of thousands of reformists who had applied to run for office.

Ex-sect member guilty of assault in son's death

TAUNTON, Mass. -- A former member of a religious sect was cleared of murder Tuesday but convicted of assault and battery for starving her infant son to death. Karen Robidoux and her husband, Jacques, were members of a religious sect that rejects modern medicine. After another sect member told them about a message she received from God, they began withholding solid food from their son, Samuel. He died in 1999 just days shy of his first birthday. Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. The assault and battery conviction carries a possible prison sentence of 2 1/2 years.

Sperm whales taking catch from fishing lines

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and some in the Gulf of Alaska are proving it at mealtimes: by plucking sablefish off hooks attached to long fishing lines. "They somehow just pick them off like grapes," said fisherman Dick Curran, who has fished the gulf's deep waters for decades. A coalition of fishermen and biologists has begun to investigate how the whales find and take the sablefish.

Louisiana rep resigns from powerful House post

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Billy Tauzin resigned as chairman Tuesday of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most powerful positions in Congress, and announced he will not seek re-election in the fall. Tauzin's desire to leave Congress has been widely speculated for months. A spokesman said the 12-term Republican congressman from Louisiana has made no decision on what he would do next.

Death toll in weekend Iraq blasts passes 100

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The death toll in the weekend double suicide bombings in the Kurdish city of Irbil climbed to 101, the U.S.-led coalition said Tuesday. The dead were among hundreds attending separate ceremonies to mark a Muslim holiday Sunday. The attacks were the bloodiest since a bomb exploded Aug. 29 in Najaf, which killed more than 85.

-- From wire reports

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