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Foreign adoption agencies restricted

Authorities said Thursday they have halted the work of all foreign adoption agencies in Russia for several months, virtually shutting down the placement of children from one of the most important countries for U.S. families seeking to adopt.

The move follows new restrictive rules imposed by China on Americans trying to adopt and U.S. warnings against adopting from Guatemala.

The licensing delay in Russia is due to a law that took effect last year that imposed strict new rules on non-governmental organizations, including more complicated registration procedures. The rules were imposed after Russian officials complained that Western-funded groups were meddling in politics across the former Soviet Union.

Sergei Vitelis, an official at the Education Ministry’s department in charge of adoptions, said the licenses of dozens of agencies working in Russia expired Wednesday and it will take officials about two months to consider applications for new ones.

That leaves only one alternative for foreign families – to adopt without using an agency. But adoption agencies say such adoptions are rare.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Iran’s uranium claims discounted

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Thursday Iran is operating only several hundred centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, despite its claims to have activated 3,000.

Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran’s nuclear program was a concern, but he discounted Tehran’s claims of a major advance in uranium enrichment, a process the United Nations demands Iran suspend or else be hit by increasing sanctions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Monday that the Natanz facility had begun “industrial-scale” production of nuclear fuel. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said workers had begun injecting uranium gas into a new array of 3,000 centrifuges, many more than the 328 centrifuges known to be operating at Natanz.

Experts say that 3,000 centrifuges would be enough in theory to develop a nuclear warhead in about a year, but they doubt Iran really had that many devices successfully running.

Iran ultimately aims to operate more than 50,000 of the devices at the site.


Official demands reporter’s release

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Thursday called for the immediate release of a BBC journalist kidnapped a month ago in the Gaza Strip, on a day of international media attention, rallies and news conferences to highlight the case.

Hundreds of people rallied in Gaza and London to demand the release of Alan Johnston, 44, a veteran BBC reporter who was abducted at gunpoint by masked kidnappers on March 12.

The BBC, Sky News and al-Jazeera aired an unprecedented joint live telecast from the West Bank town of Ramallah, which also included reports from the U.S. network CNN. The half-hour show highlighted the dangers faced by journalists working in Gaza.