Israeli Spy Satellite

Launch Is a Failure

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli spy satellite plunged into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after launch Monday, dealing a blow to Israel's attempts to closely monitor potential enemies, particularly Iran.

The malfunction occurred when boosters for the $50 million Ofek-6 satellite failed, the Defense Ministry said after the launch from the seaside Palmachim air force base in southern Israel. Witnesses saw a flash of light near the launch site. The satellite fell into the sea near the port city of Ashdod.

"An unsuccessful attempt was made to launch into orbit a remote sensing satellite," the ministry said in a statement.

The boosters apparently malfunctioned during the third phase of flight, said Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the security studies program at Tel Aviv University, who attended the launch.

The Defense Ministry said it would investigate the failure with state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries, which developed the satellite and its launcher. Officials at the firm would not comment.

The Ofek-6's watery end was part of an established abort plan. Israel launches satellites to the west, rather than east in sync with Earth's orbit, to ensure they do not fall into the hands of its Middle East foes should there be a mishap.

Israel's Ofek-5 satellite, launched in 2002, orbits over Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Also Monday, Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said he was moving another planned section of the West Bank separation barrier closer to Israel to comply with a Supreme Court order to ease hardships among Palestinians.

ASIA

* ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, indicated he may renege on a promise to stand down as army chief by the year's end, asserting that most Pakistanis want him to stay in uniform to maintain national stability as he fights terrorism.

The remarks, in a television interview, drew an angry reaction from the political opposition. Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has emerged as a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The interview was aired as Pakistan marked Defense Day.

* TOKYO -- A powerful typhoon in southern Japan caused landslides and floods, left tens of thousands without power and injured at least 23 people. In the western part of the country, strong aftershocks rattled a region hours after two earthquakes injured 43.

Typhoon Songda, with winds of up to 90 mph, headed northeast toward Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, the Meteorological Agency said. Late Monday, it was about 140 miles southwest of Nagasaki and 715 miles southwest of Tokyo.

The typhoon had pelted outlying islands in southern Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures with as much as eight inches of rain in the past 24 hours, the agency said. As much as 24 inches of rain were expected by Tuesday in parts of Kyushu.

* HONG KONG -- China sent 50 Olympic gold medallists to Hong Kong for a celebratory tour, in what analysts said was a move intended to boost the chances of pro-Beijing candidates before weekend legislative elections.

The vote pits pro-democracy forces against Beijing loyalists who have controlled the 60-seat legislature since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Although pro-democracy candidates are unlikely to secure a majority in the chamber because of an electoral system that favors pro-China forces, they may make gains sufficient to rattle Communist leaders in Beijing, analysts said.

* KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia announced its second outbreak of deadly bird flu in three weeks, near a northern village close to the border with Thailand where the disease was first detected.

The Veterinary Department said the H5N1 strain of avian influenza was believed to be the cause of the deaths of 10 chickens and 20 quail in Kampung Belian, three miles from the outbreak announced Aug. 17.

THE AMERICAS

* JALAPA, Mexico -- The candidate of Mexico's former ruling party held a slim lead in the race for governor in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz with nearly all votes counted.

The long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is trying to avoid a loss in the state, which it has held since party's creation in 1929. Official results were not expected until Wednesday.

With 93 percent of votes counted, PRI candidate Fidel Herrera had 34.5 percent of the vote, while Gerardo Buganza, a former senator from President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, had 33.7 percent.

The PRI, which lost the presidency four years ago, has shown signs of a rebirth with a string of recent victories.

* LIMA, Peru -- About 2,000 workers who have kept Peru's top courts open during a 55-day pay strike may join their colleagues on the picket line next week, union leaders said.

In July, about 8,000 judges, prosecutors and others went on strike, freezing most of Peru's legal disputes. Another 2,000 better-paid staff members who deal with high-level cases have shown up for work.

"If we cannot reach a deal, workers who currently guarantee the running of essential court services will join the strike and the administration of justice will be 100 percent paralyzed," union leader Ruben Rivera said. He said a decision would be made by next week.

* QUITO, Ecuador -- President Lucio Gutierrez removed the hard-line head of the nation's tax agency, known for her crackdown on evaders and for raising vital government revenue.

"Today the president signed a decree thanking tax agency director Elsa de Mena for her patriotic service," the president's legal adviser, Carlos Larrea, told reporters. He said a young economist, Vicente Saavedra, would replace her.

Larrea did not give a reason for the dismissal.

De Mena, who led the Internal Revenue Service since 1998, won fame for temporarily shutting down businesses that failed to pay taxes and raising the nation's tax collection, a crucial source of revenues for the cash-strapped government. She has also been at the center of a lengthy legal controversy with foreign oil firms.

AFRICA

* LAGOS, Nigeria -- Nigerian authorities stormed a weekly newsmagazine known for its strong criticism of President Olusegun Obasanjo, arresting staff members and shutting down the publication, employees said.

"They've taken away our computers and files and locked up the office," Danlami Nmodu, one of the Insider Weekly's executive editors, said by phone. "We have had to go underground, like we did when we were under military rule."

The raid Saturday, which the State Security Service said was conducted in the interest of "national security," came as the legislature is considering increased controls on journalists and media organizations.

-- From News Services

Dayangku Sarah Pengiran Salleh Ab Rahaman, the bride-to-be of Brunei's Crown Prince Muhtadee Billah, has powder paste and herbs applied according to Malay traditional marriage custom by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the palace in Bandar Seri Begawan. The marriage is to occur this week.