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World Briefs: Mission to Mars planned for next year

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INDIA

NEW DELHI — India plans to send a spacecraft to Mars next year on a scientific mission critics say shows the governing party's skewed priorities when people lack electricity and safe drinking water.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the $82 million mission during a speech Wednesday marking the 65th anniversary of India's independence from British rule.

"This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology," he said.

The spacecraft will orbit Mars to collect data after its launch in November 2013 on a frequently used rocket developed by the Indian Space Research Organization.

India has had an active space program since the 1960s and has launched scores of satellites for itself and other countries.

In 2008, India successfully sent a probe to the moon that detected evidence of water on the lunar surface for the first time.

India also is planning a rover mission to the moon and is awaiting budgetary approval for a manned space mission.

Critics of Mr. Singh's Congress party say instead of the Mars mission, the government should concentrate on providing the basic needs of people such as electricity and safe drinking water. Two weeks ago, the electricity grids that serve more than 600 million Indians collapsed for hours in the world's largest blackout.

MALAYSIA

Authorities can extradite Afghan to Australia

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia's highest court has refused to free an Afghan carpet seller who is expected to be extradited to Australia on charges of people smuggling.

Kuala Lumpur police arrested Said Mir Bahrami last August on the request of Australian officials, who believe he organized the travel of illegal immigrants to Australia through Indonesian waters.

Bahrami had denied the accusation and sought to be released on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Malaysia's Federal Court cleared the main obstacle to his extradition Wednesday by ruling that the Home Ministry is empowered to hold him under extradition laws.

More than 7,000 asylum seekers -- many from war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka -- have reached Australian shores so far this year.

NORTH KOREA

Olympians return home to heroes' welcome

PYONGYANG — Thousands of North Koreans turned out with cheers and banners to welcome their country's Olympic medalists home from London.

North Korean athletes won four golds and two bronzes to finish 20th in the medals standing. It was the country's best performance since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The Olympians waved bouquets from a bus as they paraded through Pyongyang on Thursday before laying the flowers at the statues of late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

North Korean athletes routinely credit the country's leaders for strong performances.

Sports are hugely popular in North Korea, and its Olympic medalists are treated like heroes.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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