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Inspectors confirm nuclear shutdown

United Nations inspectors have verified that North Korea has shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor, the chief of the watchdog agency said today, confirming the isolated country had taken its first step in nearly five years to halt production of atomic weapons.

South Korea sent more oil to the North today to reward its compliance with an international disarmament agreement.

“Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The process has been going quite well, and we have had good cooperation from North Korea. It’s a good step in the right direction,” ElBaradei said.


Two killed, scores injured in quake

A strong earthquake jolted northwestern Japan this morning, killing at least two people and injuring more than 200 others. The quake flattened dozens of wooden houses and triggered small tsunamis.

Flames and black smoke were seen pouring from the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant. National broadcaster NHK reported the fire was in an electrical transformer, and that no radioactivity had been released. The reactor and two others in the region shut down automatically.

Two women in Kashiwazaki died, an official at Kashiwazaki Central Hospital said. National broadcaster NHK reported the women were in their 80s and had been buried in rubble.

Kyodo News agency reported more than 200 people were hurt.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 6.7-magnitude quake was centered off the coast of Niigata, 160 miles northwest of Tokyo, where buildings swayed during the tremor.

A series of aftershocks also rattled the area, the largest one with a reported 4.2 magnitude.

The force of the quake buckled seaside roads and bridges, and 1-yard-wide fissures could been seen in the ground along the Niigata coastline.


Sudan agrees to meet rebels

In an international summit Sunday to push peace in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the Sudanese government agreed to meet rebel groups who thus far have refused to join peace talks.

If the agreement holds, it will be an important step in relaunching a peace process that has stalled since those key rebel factions rejected the widely unpopular Darfur peace agreement struck last year. The so-called “non-signatories” will meet during the first week of August to prepare a unified position for talks with the government in late August or September.

“We’ve made a serious step forward,” said Jan Eliasson, the United Nations’ special envoy for Sudan. He and African Union representative Saleem Saleem have devised a blueprint to have the government and multiple rebel factions discussing a plan for peace in Darfur by the end of the summer.


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