- - Sunday, April 8, 2012

TONGCHANG-RI — North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a controversial launch, vowing Sunday to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.

The Associated Press was among foreign news agencies allowed a firsthand look at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.

North Korea announced plans last month to launch a communications satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. Engineers said Sunday that the satellite will orbit the earth and send back data for weather forecasts and crop surveys.

The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate U.N. resolutions and North Korea’s promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.

Experts say the Unha-3 rocket slated for liftoff between April 12 and 16 also could test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the U.S.

INDIA

India, Pakistan aim to normalize ties

NEW DELHI — The leaders of India and Pakistan agreed in talks Sunday that their countries should adopt a step-by-step approach to resolve their differences and build on a recent thaw in their strained relations.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said the meeting - their first in nearly three years - was friendly and constructive.

“Relations between India and Pakistan should become normal. That’s our common desire,” Mr. Singh told reporters after the private talks, at which no aides were present.

“We would like to have better relations,” Mr. Zardari said.

Mr. Singh said he had accepted an invitation from Mr. Zardari to visit Pakistan as soon as mutually acceptable dates are worked out. Before Sunday, the two had not met since June 2009, when they met in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Mr. Zardari’s visit to India, the first by a Pakistani head of state in seven years, is the most visible sign that the two countries have put behind them the enmity that followed the 2008 attacks in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai in which 10 Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people.

ISRAEL

Israel calls on Iran to stop enriching uranium

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister on Sunday called on the international community to press Iran to give up its stockpile of high-grade enriched uranium in upcoming negotiations over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

With the comments, Ehud Barak appeared to offer a possible way out of the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program. However, it appears unlikely Iran, which maintains its right to enrich uranium, would accept his demands.

Israel repeatedly has threatened to use force against Iran if diplomacy and international sanctions fail to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are to begin talks Friday with Iran.

RUSSIA

Opposition activists rally on Red Square

MOSCOW — Russian authorities showed unusual leniency Sunday by allowing several hundred opposition supporters to gather freely on Red Square, but quickly detained a prominent opposition leader when she tried to erect a tent.

Opposition supporters wearing white ribbons, a symbol of peaceful protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s rule, walked around the square under close watch by police.

Yevgeniya Chirikova, the leader of the Khimki Forest group, was detained along with two fellow activists after she put up a small tent.

Mr. Putin faced unprecedented protests by tens of thousands of people in the months before the presidential election in March, but the demonstrations have dwindled since his victory.

GAZA STRIP

Hamas hangs Gazan for ‘collaborating’ with Israel

GAZA CITY — The militant group Hamas on Saturday executed a Palestinian convicted of collaborating with Israel and two others deemed complicit in murder, an Interior Ministry statement said.

It said the three men were hanged in a “security center” in Gaza City.

It was the first time this year that the Islamist group had carried out an execution of someone accused of “collaborating” with the Israelis.

The ministry statement did not give the men’s names, ages or any other information. However, Hamas security sources identified the “collaborator” as Mohammed Garboh from Bureij refugee camp, and the other two men as Mohammed Abdeen from Khan Yunis and Mohammed Baraka of Deir al-Balah.

From wire dispatches and staff reports