- - Wednesday, September 12, 2012


SEOUL — North Korea rejected South Korea’s offer of food and medical supplies to help flood victims Wednesday, the South’s government said.

After Pyongyang asked what aid items the South could send, the government Tuesday proposed providing 10,000 tons of flour, 3 million packages of ramen noodles and medical supplies.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s Red Cross sent a message expressing its dissatisfaction with the assistance offered, saying it doesn’t need “such aid,” Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The North’s rejection is “very regrettable,” the statement said.

After floods last year, the North also rejected an offer for aid after Seoul refused to meet its demand to ship cement and heavy equipment, which could be used for military purposes, according to South Korean officials.

Ties between the divided Koreas remain strained following two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010. Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened to attack South Korea over perceived insults.

Floods since June have killed more than 170 people, submerged vast swaths of farmland and destroyed thousands of homes, according to Pyongyang’s state media. A recent typhoon also killed 48 people and left about 21,000 others homeless, state media said.


Cuba ready to negotiate jailed American’s fate

HAVANA — A senior Cuban diplomat said Wednesday her country is prepared to negotiate a solution in the case of a jailed American contractor but is awaiting a U.S. response.

Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal also rejected allegations by the wife of 63-year-old Maryland native Alan Gross that her husband’s health is failing after more than 21/2 years in custody.

“Cuba reiterates its willingness to talk with the United States government to find a solution in the case of Mr. Gross and continues to await an answer,” Ms. Vidal, who heads the ministry’s Office of North American Affairs, said in a statement sent to the Associated Press. She gave no details.

It was the first time a Cuban official has hinted that a specific proposal has been made and indicated that the ball was in Washington’s court.

Previously, senior officials in President Raul Castro’s government have raised the case of five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States, though they have not spelled out publicly that they are seeking an exchange.

U.S. officials say privately, however, that Havana has made it increasingly clear they want a quid pro quo, which Washington repeatedly has rejected.


Tower housing Big Ben gets a new name

LONDON — The iconic Clock Tower of Britain’s Parliament was officially renamed Wednesday in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.

The 315-foot-high structure — widely, though incorrectly, known as Big Ben — is one of Britain’s most recognizable landmarks.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow unveiled a new name plaque designating the structure the Elizabeth Tower.

The renaming ceremony is the culmination of a campaign by lawmakers to mark the monarch’s 60 years on the throne.


Premier calls for protesters to be freed

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday called for three members of a punk band to be freed, a sign that the women’s release could be imminent since their case comes up for appeal Oct. 1.

The band members were arrested for performing a raucous prayer inside Moscow’s main cathedral asking Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin as he went into the election that handed him a third term as president.

They already had spent more than five months in jail when they were convicted in August of “hooliganism driven by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison.

By being the one to call for the women’s release, Mr. Medvedev, who has cultivated the image of a more liberal leader, could allow Mr. Putin to put the uncomfortable case behind him while not appearing weak.

The outward appearance of the women, who perform in bright-colored miniskirts and balaclavas, and the “hysteria” accompanying them made him sick, Mr. Medvedev said with disdain. But he said keeping them in prison any longer would be “unproductive.”

The band members’ imprisonment has come to symbolize Mr. Putin’s intensifying crackdown on dissent after his return to the presidency.


Bad booze kills 19, injures 24

PRAGUE — At least 19 people are dead and 24 others hospitalized. Some of them have been blinded, while others have been induced into comas in the hope that doctors can save them.

All drank cheap vodka and rum laced with methanol, a toxic substance used to stretch alcohol on the black market and guarantee high profits for manufacturers.

The Czech Republic announced emergency measures Wednesday as the death toll from the methanol poisoning mounted, including two women aged 28 and 21.

Kiosks and markets were banned from selling spirits with more than 30 percent alcohol content, and police raided outlets nationwide. At 410 sites, they found 70 cases of illegal alcohol.

Prime Minister Petr Necas called on all Czechs to refrain from drinking “any alcohol whose origin is uncertain,” but authorities still feared the death toll will rise.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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