Red Cross: Darfur Faces

Historic Food Crisis

GENEVA -- Villages throughout Sudan's Darfur region face an "unprecedented food crisis" worse than the famines of recent decades, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday.

The warning was based on a study of food supplies in 20 selected villages across the huge region, the group said. Officials interviewed 400 villagers and made house-to-house visits in all three provinces last month after a poor harvest, looting and theft of livestock left people hungry, a spokesman said.

"Insecurity is the root cause of the collapse of agriculture and trade in Darfur," the group said in a statement.

The United Nations has threatened sanctions against Sudan over what it calls one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The United States has called the violence in Darfur genocide.

Asia

* BEIJING -- North Korea says it is committed to resolving its nuclear crisis through six-party talks, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, an apparent reversal from statements Pyongyang has made in recent months.

North Korea has said since August that there is little point in continuing the talks until Washington drops its "hostile policy." A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zang Qiyue, quoted North Korea's second-most-senior leader, parliament chief Kim Yong Nam, as saying during a visit to China that the North was still interested in the talks.

* BANGKOK -- Twenty-three tigers have died from bird flu at a private zoo in Thailand after being fed the carcasses of chickens infected with the disease, a government official said.

The tigers have been dying at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in central Chonburi province since Sept. 14, said Charal Trinvuthipong, director of the Bird Flu Prevention and Elimination Center. The animal park was forced to close to the public while authorities investigated.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Retired Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was sworn in as Indonesia's sixth president on Wednesday after winning the country's first-ever direct elections for head of state last month.

Yudhoyono, 55, begins his five-year term amid high expectations he can fix the many problems that saddle the world's most populous Muslim nation, including rising Islamic militancy, massive poverty and widespread corruption.

europe

* MINSK, Belarus -- Police clashed with students and seriously beat the leader of Belarus's main opposition party, witnesses said, in protests against a referendum on Sunday that gave the country's authoritarian leader the right to run for president again but was widely denounced as fraudulent.

Belarus's top police officials said 46 people were detained during the protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.

The middle east

* UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council called on Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon and asked Secretary General Kofi Annan to report on progress in an apparent effort to keep pressure on Damascus.

The United States and France drew up a policy statement read at a formal meeting to bolster a Sept. 2 resolution demanding that all foreign troops leave Lebanon. It calls for reports from Annan every six months.

The Americas

* RESENDE, Brazil -- U.N. nuclear experts visited Brazil's new uranium enrichment plant to try to break an impasse over nonproliferation inspections, although how much they would be allowed to see remained at issue.

The three inspectors entered the Resende facility, a gray concrete structure in the lush tropical forest northwest of Rio de Janeiro, without saying a word to reporters. In Vienna, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency played down remarks by Brazilian officials Monday that the agency had become more flexible.

* MEXICO CITY -- A Mexican opposition leader filed criminal charges against Wal-Mart and local and federal officials over construction of a huge discount store in the shadow of ancient pyramids outside Mexico City.

Gerardo Fernandez, a national director of one of Mexico's biggest opposition parties -- the Party of the Democratic Revolution -- filed charges with the attorney general's office to block the store at the Teotihuacan archaeological ruins.

Wal-Mart damaged archaeological relics during construction, a crime subject to imprisonment, Fernandez says in his complaint. The company had no immediate comment. Construction of the Bodega Aurrera, a unit of global retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is nearly complete.

* QUITO, Ecuador -- The spread of AIDS in Ecuador's most populated province is reaching levels comparable to those in Africa and the Caribbean a decade ago and could mushroom into a national epidemic if left unchecked, U.N. officials warned.

According to Ecuador's Health Ministry, there are between 4,800 and 5,000 reported AIDS cases in a country of more than 13 million people, but the number of unreported cases could be as high as 50,000. Mauricio Valdez, the U.N.'s coordinator in Ecuador, said "80 percent of the cases are on the coast in Guayas," where the provincial capital and Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, is located.

* LIMA, Peru -- Police fired on coca growers protesting government eradication of their cocaine producing crop, killing two of the farmers after they attacked a police station near the southern border with Bolivia, authorities said.

The confrontation occurred in San Gaban, 450 miles southeast of the capital, after nearly 800 demonstrators seized a local electric plant and then tried to take over the police station, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

-- From News Services

Young tigers watch a worker at a shuttered zoo in Thailand spray disinfectant in their compound after 23 tigers died of bird flu.