- - Thursday, April 12, 2012

IRAN

ISTANBUL — Iran’s top nuclear negotiator says his country will offer new initiatives in weekend talks with world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, Iranian state media reported Thursday.

The talks Saturday in Istanbul between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany are the first direct negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program after talks collapsed more than 14 months ago.

“Iranian representatives will attend the talks with new initiatives,” Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili was quoted as saying by state TV and the official Irna news agency. “We are ready to hold successful and progressive talks on cooperation.”

DENMARK

Denmark braced for trial against 4 Swedes

COPENHAGEN — Four Swedes accused of plotting a revenge attack on a newspaper that printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad will go on trial Friday in Denmark, forcing the normally placid Nordic country to revisit an event it would rather put to rest.

The four men - Swedes living in Denmark - are charged with terrorism after allegedly planning an armed attack inside the Copenhagen-based offices of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published 12 cartoons of the prophet in 2005, sparking riots in Muslim countries and calls for revenge.

Prosecutors have described the four as Islamic militants who wanted to frighten Danish society with a shooting spree.

If found guilty of terrorism charges, the four men could face some 16 years in prison, while prosecutors say they will ask that the men be expelled from Denmark after serving the sentence.

SOUTH SUDAN

South Sudan won’t withdraw troops

JUBA — South Sudan’s president said Thursday that the nation will not withdraw its troops that this week entered a disputed border region with Sudan.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir spoke to parliament in the midst of escalating clashes along the border with Sudan. He said the country’s military also would re-enter another disputed area, Abyei, currently occupied by Sudan if the U.N. does not urge Sudan to withdraw.

Troops from South Sudan on Wednesday captured the oil-rich border town of Heglig that is claimed by Sudan, whose troops withdrew under the onslaught. Mr. Kiir said South Sudan’s military forces also had advanced past Heglig after occupying it.

UKRAINE

Top Tymoshenko ally sentenced to 5 years

KIEV — A Ukrainian court Thursday sentenced a top ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to five years in prison for abuse of office.

The Pechersk district court in Kiev found former acting Defense Minister Valery Ivashchenko guilty of abusing his office during the sell-off of a state shipbuilding plant in 2009.

Ivashchenko denied any wrongdoing, calling the verdict unjust and politically motivated.

Tymoshenko, the country’s top opposition leader, is serving a seven-year prison term on charges of abuse of office after a verdict that has been condemned by the West as politically driven.

MALI

New interim president sworn in after coup

BAMAKO — Mali’s new interim civilian president took office Thursday, vowing to keep the chaotic country intact even after rebels declared an independent state in the north following a military coup three weeks ago.

Dioncounda Traore, who heads the country’s national assembly, is to serve as Mali’s president for 40 days following an agreement between West African regional mediators and the leader of the junta that seized power last month.

Amid the political upheaval, separatist rebels in northern Mali declared an independent state that is larger than France. The power vacuum also has allowed an Islamic faction that wants to impose Shariah law in the area to flourish.

ISRAEL

Palestinians spurn call to resume talks

JERUSALEM — The Palestinians on Thursday spurned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest invitation to resume peace talks, insisting the Israelis freeze settlement construction first.

Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday proposed to start direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, without any preconditions. The call followed an appeal from international mediators.

Negotiations broke down in late 2010 over the issue of settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas claimed by the Palestinians as parts of their future state.

From wire dispatches and staff reports