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NORTH KOREA

Pyongyang willing to talk about uranium program

SEOUL | North Korea told a Russian envoy it is willing to discuss a recently disclosed uranium enrichment program if long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks resume, state media reported Tuesday.

Concerns about the North's nuclear capability took on renewed urgency in November, when a visiting U.S. scientist was shown a uranium enrichment facility.

Uranium enrichment could give North Korea, already believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least six atomic bombs, a second way to make nuclear weapons.

China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia had been negotiating since 2003 to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and other concessions. Pyongyang pulled out of the talks about two years ago after being censured for launching a long-range rocket.

AFGHANISTAN

Bombs kill official, school principal

KABUL | Two bombings Tuesday killed a local legislator and a school principal, the latest of a series of attacks as the top U.S. commander was trying to convince Congress that NATO is making progress against insurgents.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus was pleading for increased congressional funding as militants assassinated Afghan politicians and bombed security forces in a campaign that could undermine his appeal.

In another move that could hamper the funding of U.S. and international development efforts, the Afghan government ordered all private security companies to disband by March 21 next year. Although expected, Tuesday's announcement was the first time a firm date had been set for their disbandment.

Afghan and U.S. officials have said there are about 30,000 to 40,000 armed private security guards working in the country - about 26,000 of them employed by the U.S. military or government.

UZBEKISTAN

Human rights group forced out of country

ALMATY | Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that it has been forced to close its office in Uzbekistan after facing years of harassment by the Central Asian nation's authorities.

The move comes amid growing pressure on domestic rights activists, despite diplomatic overtures by the United States and international calls to implement democratic reforms.

"With the expulsion of Human Rights Watch, the Uzbek government sends a clear message that it isn't willing to tolerate critical scrutiny of its human rights record," Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said.

Uzbekistan lies on a key supply route for NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, making it a valuable ally for the West. It also has begun exporting substantial quantities of electricity to Afghanistan.

The country's strategic importance has made the United States reluctant to criticize Uzbekistan over its rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. It demanded that the U.S. and the European Union pursue a more robust human rights policy with Uzbekistan.

IRAQ

2 Kurdish officials resign in volatile city

SULAIMANIYAH | Two top Kurdish politicians resigned Tuesday from the local government in northern Iraq in what appears to be a political maneuver to challenge Arabs for control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, one of the nation's most volatile fault lines.

The city is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen, who all have competing claims to it.

Kurds are seeking to incorporate Kirkuk into their autonomous region in Iraq's north - and out from under control of the Arab-dominated central government in Baghdad.

It is one of Iraq's most explosive disputes, and Kirkuk's Arabs and Turkomen have long opposed the Kurds' goal.

INDONESIA

Small bomb wounds 4 in nation's capital

JAKARTA | A mail bomb addressed to a moderate Muslim leader exploded in Indonesia's capital Tuesday as police were trying to defuse it, wounding four people.

The bungled attempt by officers was captured on video and widely aired on local television stations.

The explosive, delivered to the offices of the Islamic Liberal Network, was placed in a hole carved into a heavy book titled "They should be killed for their sins against Islam and the Muslims."

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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