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Monday, March 9, 2009

NORTH KOREA

Armed Forces Placed In Combat-Ready Mode

North Korea has put its armed forces on full combat readiness, state media said Monday, ahead of the start of annual military exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces, which Pyongyang has characterized as a prelude to war.

The Korean People's Army called the exercises "unprecedented in the number of the aggressor forces involved and in their duration." The maneuvers, which will last through March 20, will involve a U.S. aircraft carrier, 26,000 U.S. troops and more than 30,000 South Korean soldiers.

Separately, North Korea warned that it would retaliate against any attempt to intercept a rocket it plans to launch, and that shooting it down would result in war.

Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite as part of a peaceful space program. The United States and its allies believe the North Koreans want to test a long-range missile with the theoretical capacity to reach Alaska.

Citizens Line Up to Vote

North Koreans lined up Sunday to vote for the country's next rubber-stamp parliament, endorsing candidates handpicked by the ruling party.

The vote was largely a formality, since only one candidate is listed on the ballot in each constituency. But outside observers are monitoring the election results for signs that leader Kim Jong Il, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August, has anointed a successor.

Kim's son Jong Un, 26, reportedly ran for a seat in what analysts say would be a strong sign he is poised to inherit power.

IRAN

Atomic Bomb Possible, Israeli Official Asserts

Israel's top military intelligence officer warned Sunday that Iran is capable of producing atomic weapons.

The comments of Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, follow an assessment a week ago by the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, that Iran has enough fissile material to fuel a bomb.

At a cabinet meeting, Yadlin did not say Iran already has an atomic bomb, participants said. However, he said, Iran has "crossed the threshold" and has the expertise and materials needed for one.

Israeli officials have long identified a nuclear Iran as the most serious threat to the Jewish state.

70-Mile Missile Tested

Iran has test-fired a precision air-to-surface missile with a 70-mile range, demonstrating a capability to threaten ships in the Persian Gulf, a news agency reported Sunday.

Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency cited unnamed Iranian military experts saying that the 1,100-pound, jet-fighter-mounted missiles featured an "automatic guidance capability" and a "special warhead" for destroying large ships.

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Pope to Visit Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday that he will visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories in May, his first trip as pontiff to the Holy Land. The trip will include a stop at Jerusalem's memorial to Holocaust victims. The May 8-15 trip will be the first by a pope to the Holy Land since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000.

Mutiny in Madagascar

Soldiers mutinied Sunday in a Madagascar military camp outside the capital, Antananarivo, protesting the government's repression of a three-month-old opposition movement. A power struggle between the capital's deposed mayor, Andry Rajoelina, and President Marc Ravalomanana has ignited weeks of civil unrest, leading to the deaths of about 135 people and crippling the island's tourism industry.

Tsvangirai to Return Home

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was expected back in the country Monday to prepare his wife's funeral after undergoing treatment in Botswana. Susan Tsvangirai died Friday in a car crash and will be buried Wednesday, an official from the Movement for Democratic Change party said. Her husband suffered neck and head injuries.

From News Services

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