Top army officer retires over sinking
SEOUL l South Korea’s president called Monday for greater military readiness and a stern response to North Korea over the sinking of a warship or risk a repeat attack, as his top military officer stood down over the deadly incident.
South Korea has taken a number of punitive measures against North Korea — including resuming propaganda operations — after blaming Pyongyang for torpedoing the South Korean warship Cheonan in March. Forty-six South Korean sailors died.
North Korea flatly denies the allegation and has warned any retaliation would trigger war. The country’s military said Saturday it would launch an all-out strike against any South Korean propaganda facilities at the border such as loudspeakers and could even turn Seoul into “a sea of flame.”
The North has made similar threats in the past. South Korea has reinstalled loudspeakers at the border after a six-year hiatus, but has yet to begin blaring propaganda.
On Monday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak renewed calls for a strong response. Later in the day, the U.N. Security Council was expected to hear briefings from both Koreas on the incident.
“If we fail to sternly respond to North Korea’s wrongdoing in cooperation with the international community and build up solid military readiness, a second and third provocation like the Cheonan incident can occur anytime,” Mr. Lee said in a nationally televised speech.
Cleric wants ‘special weapons’ for deterence
TEHRAN l The hard-line spiritual mentor of Iran’s president has made a rare public call for producing the “special weapons” that are a monopoly of a few nations — a veiled reference to nuclear arms.
The Associated Press on Monday obtained a copy of a book written by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi in which he said Iran should not deprive itself of the right to produce these “special weapons.”
Iran’s government, as well as its clerical hierarchy, have repeatedly denied the country is seeking nuclear weapons, as alleged by the U.S. and its allies.
The Security Council last week imposed a fourth round of sanctions in response to Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which Iran maintains is only for its nuclear energy program, but could conceivably be used to produce material for weapons.
The new U.N. sanctions call for an asset freeze of another 40 additional companies and organizations, including 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
City to ban burqas in public buildings
MADRID l Barcelona is to become the first major Spanish city to bar the use of face-covering Islamic veils in municipal buildings.
City Mayor Jordi Hereu announced the measure Monday but insisted it was not specifically religious. He says it is aimed at all dress that impedes identification, and includes motorcycle helmets and ski masks.
Lleida, also in the Spanish region of Catalonia, last month became the first Spanish city to regulate use of body-covering burqas or face-covering niqab garments.
Authorities in several European countries have been debating regulating the use of burqas in recent months.
Barcelona Town Hall said the measure was largely symbolic, given that it is unusual to see women wearing burqas or niqabs in the city, which has a population of 1.5 million.
World Cup marred by pay protest
DURBAN l A protest over stewards’ pay gave World Cup organizers a twin headache on Monday as they announced the ear-splitting vuvuzela trumpets were here to stay.
After a triumphant opening confounded skepticism about South Africa’s ability to host the World Cup, FIFA had to confront the first major unrest of the tournament after Germany’s 4-0 win over Australia in Durban.
Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up a protest. It broke out in the early hours when an estimated 400 stadium staffers protestied what they said was a pay cut from 250 rand ($33) to 190 rand per day.
“They were unhappy about the wages they were getting from their employers, so they started getting unruly,” police spokeswoman Phindile Radebe told Agence France-Presse.
Police broke up the initial protest outside the stadium, but about 200 continued protesting on a nearby street, where rubber bullets and stun grenades were fired to break up the demonstration, she said.
“No one has been arrested so far,” Mr. Radebe said.
U.S. finds mineral riches
KABUL l U.S. geologists have discovered vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan, possibly amounting to $1 trillion, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman said Monday.
Waheed Omar told reporters the findings were made by the U.S. Geological Survey under contract to the Afghan government.
“The survey … has shown that Afghanistan has mineral resources worth $1 trillion,” Mr. Omar said.
“This is not an overall survey of all minerals in Afghanistan. Whatever has been found in this survey is worth $1 trillion.”
Mr. Omar refused to provide details, referring reporters to the Ministry of Mines. An official at the ministry refused to discuss the survey, saying details would be released at a news conference later this week.
A 2007 report by the USGS said most of the data on Afghanistan’s mineral resources were produced between the early 1950s and 1985 but much was hidden and protected by Afghan scientists “during the intermittent conflict over the next two decades.”
Anti-Islamization party criticized
PARIS l Anti-racism activists on Monday condemned plans to hold a “pork sausage and wine” party in a multiethnic Paris district to protest against what the organizers call “Islamization.”
SOS Racisme called for the event scheduled for Friday in the Goutte d’Or area of north Paris to be banned because it sent out a “message of hate and of violence towards groups of people because of their real or supposed origins.”
The opposition Communist Party said in a statement that “this disgusting joke seeks to exacerbate the differences that make for the richness of the 18th arrondissement [district].”
The idea came from Sylvie Francois, a local resident who told French radio that she set up a Facebook page for the event to fight against what she saw as the increasing “Islamization” of her area.
The project has been publicized on Internet social networking sites by a small far-right group that calls itself the Bloc Identitaire.
Paris police said they will meet with the event’s organizers on Tuesday to consider their official request for permission to hold the event.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports