- - Sunday, March 18, 2012

PYONGYANG — North Korea vowed Sunday to go ahead with plans to launch a long-range rocket, rejecting criticism in the West that it would scuttle recent diplomacy.

North Korea said Friday that it would fire an observation satellite into space on a new rocket as part of celebrations next month of the 100th anniversary of late President Kim Il-sung’s birth.

The announcement came about two weeks after the North agreed to suspend long-range missile tests and make nuclear concessions in exchange for much-needed food aid from the United States. The agreement was seen as a promising step toward improved relations between the two wartime enemies.

The U.S., Japan, Britain and others have urged North Korea to cancel the planned launch, calling it a threat to diplomatic efforts and warning that it would violate a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity because the same rocket technology can be used for long-range missiles.

IRAN

Sanctions-hit Iran alters currency exchange rate

TEHRAN — Iran’s Central Bank is moving to bring part of its official foreign currency exchange rate into line with the much higher rate on the streets.

The bank announced Sunday that it would allow authorized money changers to trade dollars at 19,000 rials per dollar, while the official rate remains at 12,260.

The Iranian currency has lost much of its value because of Western sanctions to halt Iran’s nuclear development program.

Iran has a burgeoning black market in currencies because of the wide gap between the official and street exchange rates.

It was not clear whether the central bank would continue adjusting its market rate to reflect the unofficial street price.

GERMANY

German-Afghan man accused of al Qaeda membership

BERLIN — A German-Afghan man whose information helped prompt terrorism warnings across Europe in 2010 goes on trial Monday on charges that he is a member of al Qaeda and another terrorist group.

Ahmad Wali Siddiqui was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July 2010 and while in custody provided details on alleged al Qaeda plots supposedly targeting European cities. No attacks materialized.

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