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N. Korea thanks U.S. for naval help

North Korea expressed rare gratitude Thursday for U.S. help in ending a high-seas standoff with Somali pirates, a sign of warming ties between the longtime foes fostered by progress on Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament.

The U.S. Navy’s aid to North Korean sailors last week was unprecedented in the half-century of hostility between the Cold War enemies, according to the Naval Historical Center in Washington.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency hailed the maritime collaboration as a “symbol of cooperation” between the two countries “in the struggle against terrorism.”

“The pirates’ recent armed attack on our trading ship was a grave terrorist act perpetrated against a peaceful ship,” KCNA said. “We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen.”

The last notable maritime encounter between the two countries was in 1968, when the North seized the USS Pueblo while it was on an intelligence-gathering mission off the North Korean coast and held 82 Americans as prisoners of war for 11 months.


32 miners die in gas leak

A gas leak killed 32 coal miners Thursday in southwest China, while three others were missing and presumed dead, a government safety official said.

The leak occurred at the Qunli mine in Nayong county in Guizhou province, said the official with the Guizhou Provincial Coal Mine Safety Bureau.

The cause of the gas leak was not immediately known.

The government warned recently that China’s mining industry, the most dangerous in the world, would likely see more accidents as output was boosted to provide heating for the winter months.

China’s coal mines average 13 deaths a day in fires, explosions and floods, despite government efforts to improve safety.


Georgian leader schedules vote

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili eased the crisis that has gripped the country for the past week by pledging Thursday to hold presidential elections and a referendum on voting for a new parliament on Jan. 5.

A day after the fledgling pro-Western government’s democratic credentials were badly bruised by a violent crackdown against thousands of opposition demonstrators, Saakashvili surprised even his opponents by agreeing to go to the polls in less than two months.

Opposition leaders called off further protests, and the demonstration that has gripped the nation since 70,000 people occupied the street outside parliament Nov. 2 appeared to be nearing an end. With hundreds of soldiers blocking off streets in Tbilisi, the capital, schools closed and independent news broadcasts shut down, government officials signaled that the 15-day state of emergency declared Wednesday could be lifted sooner if calm prevails.


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N. Korea, setting stage for talks, halts nuclear, ICBM tests

UPDATED: 10:03 p.m.

North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North’s announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal.