Biden arrives for trade, security talks

Vice President Biden arrived in India on Monday on a trip that will focus on boosting trade and regional security ties and strengthening a strategic partnership that has languished in recent years.

Biden’s four-day visit, which will include a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is viewed as a major step in promoting President Obama’s focus on forging strong partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region in an effort to counterbalance China’s power.

Biden and Indian leaders were expected to discuss hurdles to trade and restrictions on American companies doing business in the Indian marketplace.

Biden’s first stop after his arrival was a ceremonial visit to a museum dedicated to Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi.

It is Biden’s first trip to India as vice president. He visited New Delhi in 2008 as a senator.

During formal talks Tuesday, Biden and Indian officials will focus on ways to expand bilateral trade that currently stands at $100 billion, officials said.

In a speech Thursday in Washington, Biden said that trade between the countries had increased fivefold over 13 years but that there was no reason it should not expand five times as much again.

Despite the increasing trade, U.S. business groups have complained about the slow pace of economic reform in India and have urged New Delhi to open up its markets further. The Indian government in recent months has loosened rules governing foreign investment in some areas of the economy.

— Associated Press

Earthquake kills scores in northwest

A strong earthquake that shook an arid, hilly farming area in northwest China sparked landslides and destroyed or damaged thousands of brick-and-mud homes Monday, killing at least 89 people and injuring more than 600, the government said.

The quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province toppled brick walls and telephone lines, shattered mud-and-tile-roofed houses, and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides that blocked roads and slowed rescue efforts by crews trying to reach remote areas.

Hospitals set up aid stations in parking lots to accommodate large numbers of injured, while hundreds of paramilitary police officers fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland where the quake struck about 760 miles west of Beijing.

“I saw the bulb hanging from the ceiling start swinging wildly around. I woke my two friends and we ran into the bathroom to hide,” said arts student Li Jingui, 21, who was on the fourth floor of a school dormitory in Dingxi when the shaking started.

“After the strongest tremors were over, we were worried that there would be aftershocks, so we packed our stuff and ran out into a large clearing,” Li said in a telephone interview.

Five people remained missing, the China Earthquake Administration said.

— Associated Press

Abbas issues warning ahead of preliminary talks: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned in comments published Monday that “all options are open” if the United States fails to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The comments, Abbas’s first since Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced last week that peace talks may resume for the first time in five years, could be an attempt to exert pressure on the United States and Israel to meet Palestinian demands on the terms of formal negotiations. Israeli and Palestinian representatives are to hold preliminary talks in Washington soon to work out the final details of what Kerry portrayed as broad agreement on the framework for restarting peace talks that collapsed in 2008.

Dubai suspends sentence of alleged rape victim: A Norwegian woman at the center of a Dubai rape allegation dispute said Sunday that officials have dropped her 16-month sentence for having sex outside marriage and that she is free to leave the United Arab Emirates. The sentence last week against Marte Deborah Dalelv, 24, stirred outrage in the West and highlighted the frequent clash between Dubai’s Western-friendly image and its Islamic-based legal codes. The woman’s alleged attacker, identified as a Sudanese co-worker, received a 13-month term on the same counts. He also was cleared by a pardon, she said.

Romanian woman now denies burning artworks: The mother of a man charged with stealing works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse has apparently backtracked on a confession that she burned the paintings in order to protect her son. Olga Dogaru told a Bucharest court Monday that she did not burn the paintings in her stove, news agencies reported.

— From news services