- - Monday, September 20, 2010

FRANCE

Officials warn of imminent terror threat

PARIS | France is at immediate risk of a major terrorist attack by Islamist radicals and has further reinforced already urgent security measures since last week, officials said Monday.

Asked about reports that an attack might be imminent, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said: “The threat is real. We have stepped up our vigilance.”

Separately, a source close to the interior ministry confirmed that police are probing reports that a female suicide bomber may be preparing a strike in Paris, but added: “That’s not necessarily the most worrying thing.”

Instead, Paris is concerned with intelligence received from an allied foreign spy agency that al Qaeda’s North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is planning an “imminent” attack in France.

“It’s a threat which we think might target transportation,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity and without giving further details except that the warning was received at 5 a.m. Thursday.

RUSSIA

Russians to boost Arctic research

MOSCOW | Russia is boosting its research efforts to support its claims for parts of the Arctic continental shelf, the Kremlin’s point man for the Arctic said Monday.

Artur Chilingarov told reporters that he will head an expedition next month to launch a drifting research station in the Arctic to gather scientific data in support of Russia’s claim on Arctic territories.

Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is thought to contain as much as a quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and natural gas.

Russia’s new drifting station will complement an icebreaker and a research ship that have been in the Arctic for the past two months, seeking evidence of Russia’s territorial claims, said Mr. Chilingarov, the Russian president’s envoy for international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctica.

KOREA

Pyongyang sets party leadership parley

SEOUL | A rare meeting of North Korea’s ruling Communist Party expected to pave the way for an eventual leadership succession will be held late this month, state media announced Tuesday.

“The conference of the [Workers’ Party of Korea] for electing its supreme leadership body will take place in Pyongyang on September 28,” the Korean Central News Agency said, describing it as a “historic” meeting.

The North earlier scheduled the meeting — the biggest political gathering for 30 years — for early September, but it was postponed without explanation. The report Tuesday was the first to name the date.

The conference is expected to put a new leadership lineup in place, spell out possible policy shifts and pave the way for an eventual power transfer from leader Kim Jong-Il to his youngest son Kim Jong-un.

South Korean reports said North Korea told international agencies that the delegates’ meeting was postponed as a result of damage from floods in August and a typhoon that killed dozens in the North.

The elder Mr. Kim, 68, has reportedly been speeding up succession planning since he suffered a stroke in August 2008.

Analysts say the conference will likely promote supporters of the dynastic power transfer. Mr. Kim took over from his father, Kim Il-sung.

They say Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be about 27 years old, might be given a midlevel party post.

Meetings to elect delegates to the conference took place “against the background of a high-pitched drive for effecting a new, great revolutionary surge now under way on all fronts for building a thriving nation,” the state-run news agency reported.

PHILIPPINES

Aquino weighs charges over hostage standoff

MANILA | Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Monday that Manila’s mayor, a recently retired police chief and journalists were among a dozen people who could be charged in connection with the disastrous hostage standoff last month that ended with eight Hong Kong tourists killed and ties with China damaged.

The recommended charges, both criminal and administrative, were part of a government investigation report on the Aug. 23 hostage crisis that has been handed over to the Chinese ambassador.

Mr. Aquino said he will decide whether to approve the filing of charges, including against one of his close aides, after government lawyers have studied the lengthy report and he has returned from an upcoming U.S. trip.

BELGIUM

2 bishops want debate on priest celibacy

BRUSSELS | Two Belgian bishops openly questioned mandatory celibacy for Roman Catholic priests, rekindling a debate Monday within the scandal-hit church.

The bishop of Hasselt, Patrick Hoogmartens, and his counterpart in Bruges, Jozef De Kesel, said in separate comments that married men should not automatically be excluded from the priesthood.

The comments come amid the scandal over sex abuse among the clergy that has shaken the Belgian church to its core. Some have questioned whether celibacy is in part to blame and have called for the rule to be rethought.

The Vatican insists celibacy isn’t responsible and has defended it as nonnegotiable, even as the number of priests around the world continues to decline.

SOMALIA

Suicide bomber attacks presidential compound

MOGADISHU | A suspected al Qaeda-linked attacker disguised as a government soldier blew himself up Monday inside the presidential compound in Mogadishu, a security official told Agence France-Presse.

It was not immediately clear whether any other casualties resulted from the attack, which took place as a convoy of the African Union mission in Somalia was entering the compound.

The security official could not confirm whether President Sharif Sheik Ahmed was in the palace at the time of the attack. He also said he was checking information that a second attacker might still be at large in the area.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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