British Conservatives

Pick Young New Leader

LONDON -- David Cameron, whose boyish good looks and media savvy remind many of the youthful Tony Blair, was chosen leader of Britain's Conservatives on Tuesday, bringing new optimism to a party plagued by three straight election losses.

Cameron, 39, derided the prime minister and his government as "yesterday's men" and pledged to sweep them aside.

"We have a vast mountain to climb," he said, joined by his wife, Samantha. "But if we are united, if we have a clear view about what needs to change . . . we can be a constructive opposition and we can be that good government that this country clearly needs."

His rival, David Davis, who was trounced in the ballot of party members, conceded defeat and heralded Cameron as a Conservative prime minister in waiting.

ASIA

* COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A land mine killed six Sri Lankan soldiers in the northern city of Jaffna, said an army spokesman, who blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels for the attack.

The deaths coincided with the takeover of the country's armed forces by a hawkish commander, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

The military also blames the Tamil Tigers for attacks that killed seven soldiers Sunday -- the most serious violence since the two sides signed a truce three years ago. The rebel group denies any role in the attacks.

* BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azerbaijan's main opposition bloc said it would boycott the new parliament elected in disputed elections last month.

The Azadliq, or Freedom, bloc won six seats in the 125-member assembly and has alleged widespread fraud. The ruling party kept a majority with the support of independent lawmakers.

The oil-rich Caspian Sea nation is ruled by President Ilham Aliyev, who came to power in 2003 elections, succeeding his father, Heydar, who had been in power for a decade.

* SEOUL -- North Korea threatened to boycott multinational talks on eliminating its nuclear weapons program unless the United States lifts financial sanctions.

Washington imposed sanctions in October on eight North Korean firms it called fronts for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It also suspects North Korea of counterfeiting and money-laundering. North Korea denies the allegations.

In a speech Wednesday in Seoul, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow ruled out any talks on the sanctions. "It's up to North Korea to end the behavior that led to those sanctions," he said.

* BEIJING -- A 10-year-old girl in southern China has tested positive for the deadly H5N1 virus, the government said, making her the country's fourth human case of bird flu. Two of those cases ended in death.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* JERUSALEM -- Israel launched a military clampdown in the occupied West Bank in the opening stages of what it vowed would be a harsh response to a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed five Israelis.

Israel's army said it tightened restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and carried out raids that led to 14 arrests in Monday's bombing at a busy shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya. The bomber's father and three brothers were detained.

Israel also suspended VIP entry permits for Palestinian officials and will buffer its forces in border areas near the West Bank, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.

EUROPE

* MADRID -- Five small bombs exploded on highways near the Spanish capital following a warning call from the armed Basque separatist group ETA, the Interior Ministry said. No one was injured.

Earlier, a small bomb exploded outside a post office in the northern town of Altsasu, also causing no injuries. No one asserted responsibility, but police blamed ETA.

The explosions occurred on a national holiday marking the 27th anniversary of Spain's constitution.

* MOSCOW -- A court opened a preliminary hearing in the trial of three ethnic Chechens accused of killing American journalist Paul Klebnikov, one of the highest-profile slayings in Russia in recent years.

In the closed proceedings, the court decided that Kazbek Dukuzov, Musa Vakhayev and Fail Sadretdinov would be tried by a jury, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing Dukuzov's attorney.

Klebnikov, editor of Forbes magazine's Russian edition, was shot outside the magazine's Moscow offices in July 2004. Prosecutors allege that Dukuzov and Vakhayev killed Klebnikov on orders from Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, the subject of a critical book by Klebnikov.

* MAKHACHKALA, Russia -- Russian authorities transported 125 Chechen refugees from the former Soviet republic of Georgia back to their homeland -- part of Kremlin efforts to show that the war-shattered region is stabilizing. The refugees, flown to Makhachkala in southern Russia, were to board a bus that would take them to Chechnya.

* KIEV, Ukraine -- Experts have begun unloading radioactive fuel from one of the closed reactors at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a plant spokesman said. Reactor No. 3 -- the last to operate -- was closed in 2000.

-- From News Services

David Cameron, 39, to lead Tories.