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 -- Powerful typhoon Songda made landfall in southern Japan on Tuesday, pounding the region with torrential rains and high winds that forced evacuations, caused blackouts and brought public transport to a virtual standstill.

At least 23 people were injured. In the western part of the country, strong aftershocks rattled a region hours after two earthquakes injured 43.

* BEIJING -- China has put the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, on flood alert, the New China News Agency said on Tuesday after rain and mudslides killed 76 in areas to the west.

Water levels at hydrological stations were above "warning levels" and rising, and navigation on the giant reservoir above the dam was halted for the first time, the agency said.

* SHANGHAI -- Chinese makers and distributors of pornographic materials sent through the Internet, mobile phones and other communication devices will face penalties as severe as life in prison under new rules.

The regulations were to take effect Monday following a legal interpretation by the Supreme People's Court and the top prosecutor's office, the New China News Agency reported.

* 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 against pro-democracy forces before weekend legislative elections.

* KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia's highest court cleared the way Tuesday for an appeal that could allow newly freed former deputy leader Anwar Ibrahim to return to politics.

* KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia on Monday 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 the 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.

* BOGOTA, Colombia -- The attorney general's office ordered the arrest of a military officer, two soldiers and a civilian in connection with the killing of three union officials last month. The men were killed in the northeast Arauca province by army troops who claim they were also leftist rebels.

* LIMA, Peru -- Peru's judiciary agreed to reopen talks with about 8,000 judges, prosecutors and court workers demanding higher pay to avoid a larger strike that could paralyze the nation's court system, a union leader said.

About 2,000 other workers who have kept Peru's top courts open during a 55-day court strike earlier threatened to join their colleagues on the picket line next week.

* QUITO, Ecuador -- President Lucio Gutierrez removed the hard-line head of the nation's tax agency, Elsa de Mena, known for her crackdown on evaders and for raising vital government revenue. No reason for the dismissal was given.

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.

The Saturday raid of the Insider Weekly, 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.