ASIA Japan to Press N. Korea on Arms Program TOKYO -- Showing solidarity with Washington, Japan's foreign minister said yesterday that her country would not normalize ties with North Korea or give it economic aid unless Pyongyang scrapped its nuclear weapons program.

But Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi added that Japan, which is eager to make progress on the emotional issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, would do its best to keep Pyongyang engaged in dialogue.

Japan and North Korea resumed talks today for the first time in two years on establishing diplomatic ties.

Kawaguchi acknowledged that talking tough with North Korea carried risks, including the possibility of endangering discussions on the fate of five abductees now visiting Japan and of their families back in North Korea.

ReutersAFRICA Rebels Battle in Central African Republic BANGUI, Central African Republic -- Mortar and automatic-weapons fire rocked Bangui for a fourth day as rebels backing an ousted army chief battled government supporters for control of the nation. Each side accused the other of enlisting forces from other countries in the region.

There were no reliable reports on casualties, but tens of thousands of residents have fled the capital. President Ange-Felixe Patasse was reported to have left his residence for refuge in a foreign diplomatic mission.

The U.S. State Department described security as uncertain and advised Americans to defer travel to the country. It advised U.S. citizens living in Bangui to exercise caution and to remain in their homes until the situation stabilizes.

Patasse has accused Gen. Francois Bozize, the ousted army chief, of trying to overthrow him last November. Bozize sought refuge in neighboring Chad after the government tried to arrest him.

Associated PressTHE MIDDLE EAST Israel Holds 175 in Suspected Bomb Plots RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israel has captured 175 Palestinians suspected of plotting suicide bomb attacks, Israeli officials said, calling the figure evidence that Palestinian militants are relentless in trying to attack Israelis.

Security officials said most of the suspected plotters were captured in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A smaller number were intercepted while en route to Israel.

Since September 2000, 83 Palestinians have blown themselves up, killing 296 Israelis on buses, in malls, at gas stations and in cafes. The Palestinians say that harsh Israeli military strikes and strict travel bans in the West Bank and Gaza provoke bombings and shootings.

Associated PressFOR THE RECORD

The second of two kidnapped sisters of Mexican pop star and actress Thalia has been freed in a case that has riveted Mexico and renewed the nation's anguish over a kidnapping epidemic. . . . Radical Muslim cleric Abubakar Baasyir was taken to Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, for questioning about alleged links to a terrorist network. . . . Nepal's army killed at least 32 rebels and foiled a midnight attack on a small airstrip in the country's mountainous east, a Defense Ministry statement said. . . . Workers scrambled to clear roadways and railways of trees and other debris after a fierce storm pummeled much of northern Europe with deadly gale-force winds, killing as many as 31 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity.