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UN Inspectors Head to North Korean Nuclear Reactor


NOKOR - NUCLEAR: United Nations inspectors are making a trip to a North Korean nuclear reactor the government has agreed to shut down in exchange for fuel aid. It will be the first time International Atomic Energy Agency officials have visited the Yongbyon reactor since North Korea expelled the group in 2002. The delegation is to return to the capital, Pyongyang, on Friday. The U.N. team is trying to negotiate a plan to monitor the reactor's shutdown, as North Korea agreed to do in talks last February with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. In exchange for closing its nuclear reactor, North Korea will receive fuel aid from the five countries.

CHINA - FOOD SAFETY: China is defending the quality of its food exports after a series of scandals raised international concerns about the safety of Chinese-made products. Commerce Ministry spokesman Wang Xinpei told reporters today China closely inspects food coming in and out of the country. He said the quality of food exported from China is guaranteed. China has had to defend a rash of faulty or tainted products, including toothpaste that contained a potentially deadly chemical and pet food that has been blamed for recent animal deaths in North America. On Wednesday, Chinese regulators closed nearly 200 factories after finding industrial chemicals in a range of food products from candy to seafood.

PHILIPPINES - KILLINGS: Human Rights Watch says it has strong evidence of what it calls a "dirty war" by the Philippine armed forces against left-leaning activists and journalists. A report issued by the New York-based group today details the alleged involvement of government security forces in the murder or "disappearance" of activists, journalists, outspoken clergy and staff of non-governmental organizations. Based on 100 interviews, the report says the killings increased in February 2006, after President Gloria Arroyo accused leftist political parties of working with coup plotters. Local rights groups say 800 activists and journalists have been killed since President Arroyo took office in 2001.

EU - INDONESIA: The European Commission says it is banning all Indonesian airlines, and several from Russia, Ukraine and Angola, from flying to the European Union. A statement released by the commission says the measures are being taken for what it termed "safety reasons." The ban on Indonesian carriers applies to all 51 airlines certified in that country. No Indonesian airlines currently fly to Europe. The commission also says current restrictions on Pakistan International Airlines will be modified.

IRAQ: Iraqi officials say a car bomb has killed at least 21 people at a crowded bus station in Baghdad. They say 40 others were wounded in today's explosion during morning rush hour in the capital's mostly-Shi'ite district of Bayaa. At least 40 vehicles were destroyed by the bomb. Elsewhere in the capital, mortars hit the central Shorja commercial district, killing at least two people. In another development, the British military said a roadside bomb killed three British soldiers in the southern city of Basra. Also today, Iraqi authorities found the bodies of 20 beheaded men on the banks of the Tigris River, south of Baghdad.

BRITAIN PRIME MINISTER: Britain's new Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to begin his first day in office by making sweeping cabinet changes. Media reports say Mr. Brown will nominate David Miliband, currently Britain's environment secretary, as foreign secretary. And Mr. Brown's leadership campaign manager, Jack Straw, is slated to become the next justice secretary. British news reports say Margaret Beckett will not return as foreign secretary and that controversial Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt will also be replaced. On Wednesday, Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped down after 10 years in office.

RUSSIA - VENEZUELA - CHAVEZ: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in Moscow for discussions with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin about a possible arms deal and expanded economic ties between the two countries. President Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow early today , expressing hope for what he called "cooperation and union with Russia." Kremlin officials say talks today will focus on trade and economic cooperation, with both countries being major oil producers. Russian state television says bilateral trade last year amounted to 90-million dollars. The Venezuelan agenda also includes the possible purchase of Russian diesel-electric submarines, armed with missiles.

VENEZUELA MARCH: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have demonstrated in the capital to press for more freedom of expression. Last month President Hugo Chavez shut down Venezuela's most popular private television station. He accused Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) of inciting rebellion against the government and of backing a failed 2002 coup. The head of RCTV told VOA the allegations are false and the freedom of expression is at risk in Venezuela. The U.S. Congress is considering a proposal to increase Voice of America broadcasts to Venezuela.

US - GLOBAL IMAGE POLL: A survey released Wednesday shows an increase in worldwide distrust of U.S. foreign policy and President Bush. The poll by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center reveals global support has dropped for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S.-led war on terror over the past five years. The poll of 46 nations and the Palestinian territories shows particularly negative views of the United States in Muslim nations. It also found the image of the United States has worsened among some of its closest allies, including Germany and Great Britain.

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