South Africa Drops Charges

In Case of Nuclear Components

JOHANNESBURG -- South African authorities abruptly announced Wednesday that they had dropped criminal charges filed last week against a Pretoria man accused of possessing components used to make bomb-grade uranium for nuclear weapons.

The move was part of a deal in which the man, Johan Andries Muller Meyer, 53, is expected to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation of other targets, a source familiar with the probe said on condition of anonymity.

Police arrested Meyer last Thursday in Vanderbijlpark, an industrial town 50 miles south of Johannesburg, where he is a director of Trade Fin Engineering. He was charged with violating South Africa's strict laws against nuclear proliferation.

Eleven shipping containers of components for a gas centrifuge, used in the enrichment of uranium, were confiscated in the investigation, along with related documentation and a machine that can be used to make other weapons components, officials said.

-- Craig Timberg

ASIA

* SEOUL -- North Korea accused the United States of applying a double standard on the Korean Peninsula and warned of a nuclear arms race in northeastern Asia following the disclosure that South Korean scientists enriched a tiny amount of uranium in 2000.

The controversy over the South Korean test threatened to further disrupt efforts to persuade North Korea to dismantle its suspected nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea's envoy to the United Nations, Han Sung Ryol, told South Korea's national news agency Yonhap that the communist state found the United States "worthless" as a dialogue partner.

In a separate development, South Korea said it should have reported the uranium enrichment experiment to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. South Korea admitted last week that its scientists produced 0.2 grams of enriched uranium during the experiment at its main government-affiliated nuclear research institute.

Europe

* PARIS -- About 100 to 120 French girls have defied the nationwide ban on Islamic head scarves in schools, the education minister said, and at least five boys from the country's tiny Sikh community have been barred from class for refusing to remove their turbans.

The defiant girls are in talks with school officials over removing the head coverings, said Education Minister Francois Fillon.

The ban, which prohibits conspicuous religious symbols and apparel in public schools, calls for a period of dialogue for those who fail to comply.

If students do not agree to follow the law during the discussions, which can last several weeks, measures will be taken to expel them. The law is meant to bring France's increasingly vocal Muslim population, estimated at 5 million, into line with its cherished principle of secularism.

-- From News Services