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Koreas agree to resume talks

The two Koreas agreed to resume stalled high-level talks later this month in Pyongyang, officials said today amid signs of easing tensions on the divided peninsula after the North signed a breakthrough disarmament agreement.

The Cabinet-level talks – the highest dialogue channel between the two Koreas – will be held in the North’s capital from Feb. 27 to March 2. The talks had been suspended for seven months amid chilled relations after North Korea’s missile launches in July and nuclear test in October.

Cabinet-level talks – which usually serve as a forum for discussion of Seoul’s aid to the impoverished North – could lead to a resumption of the regular delivery of rice and fertilizer to the communist nation. South Korea suspended its aid after the July missile tests.

The move to restart the talks comes after the nuclear agreement, reached Tuesday among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.


Burning ship stirs pollution fears

Officials warned of a potential environmental disaster in Antarctica after fire erupted today on a Japanese whaling ship, leaving it crippled and drifting near penguin breeding grounds on the frozen continent’s coast.

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter, whose country is leading efforts to help the stricken ship, said it was carrying 132,000 gallons of heavy oil and 211,000 gallons of furnace oil and was starting to list from water pumped aboard to fight the fire. No oil had spilled from the ship and it was in no immediate danger of sinking, officials said.

Japanese officials said the blaze that broke out in the below-decks area of the ship where whale carcasses are processed was under control. Most of the 148-member crew of the 8,000-ton Nisshin Maru were evacuated today to three other ships from the Japanese whaling fleet in the area, said Hideki Moronuki, an official with the Japan Fisheries Agency.


Parliament rejects U.N. Kosovo plan

Serbia’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected a U.N. plan that would give virtual independence to the breakaway province of Kosovo.

The rejection sends a strong signal that Serbia will be unlikely to compromise over its southern province, meaning a resolution to the dispute over Kosovo’s final status will probably have to be imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

The proposal, drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, does not explicitly call for Kosovo’s independence, but envisions granting the province its own flag, anthem, army, constitution and the right to apply for membership in international organizations.

The plan was rejected by a vote of 255-15.


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Police: Man killed deputy, stole his car and robbed store

NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine – A gunman in Maine killed a sheriff’s deputy, stole his cruiser and robbed a convenience store early Wednesday, triggering an intensive manhunt in a heavily wooded rural town, officials said. Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole was killed around 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Bangor, state police said. His cruiser was driven to a Cumberland Farms store, which was robbed.