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UPI NewsTrack TopNews

April 2, 2013 at 8:00 AM   |   Comments

North Korea to restart nuclear complex

PYONGYANG, North Korea, April 2 (UPI) -- North Korea, already under U.N. sanctions for nuclear tests, said Tuesday it will restart operations at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

No timetable for the restart was announced.

A spokesman for the North's General Department of Atomic Energy told the official Korean Central News Agency that Pyongyang will "readjust" and "restart" all nuclear facilities at the complex, including a uranium enrichment plant and a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor.

The reactor was disabled in October 2007 under six-nation talks to denuclearize North Korea in return for aid.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the restart of the reactor will allow Pyongyang to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods.

KCNA quoted the atomic energy department spokesman as saying the decision to restart the nuclear complex was taken at a March 31 plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea to address the country's electricity shortage and boost nuclear armed forces, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

China is North Korea's closest ally but it had condemned Pyongyang's Feb. 12 nuclear test, its third since 2006, which resulted in the U.N. Security Council tightening its existing sanctions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his government regretted the North's intention to reopen its nuclear facilities.


Iran keeps nuclear in check before vote

WASHINGTON, April 2 (UPI) -- Iran has decided to keep its nuclear program within Israeli-demanded limits to avoid an Iranian election-year crisis, U.S., European and Israeli officials said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ensured Iranian nuclear officials keep the country's amount of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity below 250 kilograms, or about 551 pounds, the senior officials told The Wall Street Journal in a story published Tuesday.

The 250-kilogram amount of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity is what experts say Iran would need to make an atomic bomb if it processed the uranium further into weapons-grade fuel.

It is also the amount Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the United Nations in September was the "red line" the world should prevent Iran from crossing, through military action if necessary.

U.S. and Israeli officials told the Journal they believed Iran's moves to stay clear of 250 kilograms were a stalling tactic, rather than a change of direction for the nuclear program, which Iran insists is simply developing civilian nuclear power -- a claim Washington and Jerusalem say they do not believe.

The U.S. and Israeli officials cited by the Journal pointed to other Iranian actions that are accelerating the pace at which Tehran could create weapons-grade fuel. One action involves thousands of centrifuge machines the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported were installed at the deep-underground Fordo uranium-enrichment plant south of Tehran, near the holy city of Qom.

Fordo is in a fortified bunker seen as largely immune to U.S. or Israeli military strikes, the Journal said.


Gitmo detainees maintain hunger strike

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 2 (UPI) -- U.S. officials said 39 detainees are on a hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison but prisoners' attorneys said the number is higher.

The Pentagon said Monday 39 men were consistently refusing food and 11 of those were being force-fed, The Washington Post reported.

Attorneys for the detainees said they were told nearly all inmates of Camp 6 -- where detainees can use common areas – were on hunger strike. Until recently, 130 men were housed in Camp 6. The lawyers said some protesters were moved to the Camp 5, which has been used to hold "non-compliant" detainees in greater isolation.

Military officials wouldn't release the population for the specific camps, the Post said. The facility has 166 detainees overall.

Attorneys for the detainees said the immediate cause for the protest, which started in February, was a decision to search detainees' Korans. Military officials said Korans were searched for contraband but were handled by interpreters, most of whom are Muslim, not guards.

David Remes, a lawyer for some detainees, said most of the strikers would resume food intake if the military agreed not to search Korans. However, a several men indicated they wanted to expand the strike to protest their detention and what they consider the Obama administration's desertion of its plans to close the facility, Remes said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said 13 delegates are visiting the camps.

It is the opinion of the ICRC that past and current tensions at Guantanamo, including hunger strikes, are the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees," Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the organization, said in a statement issued Monday.

Human Rights Watch on Monday called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to allow it "full access to Guantanamo Bay detention camps so that we can independently review and report on the conditions of confinement."


Sudan's Bashir to visit South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan, April 2 (UPI) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is planning his first visit to South Sudan since its independence vote to discuss post-secession issues, officials said.

Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit were expected to discuss outstanding issues between the two nations, such as the status of Abyei and other disputed border areas, the Sudan Tribune reported Tuesday.

South Sudan Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said the two leaders also would discuss the need to quickly establish Safe Demilitarized Buffer Zones to avoid accusations of border incursions and to allow people and goods to move freely between the countries.

Benjamin told the Sudan Tribune his country had expected Bashir to visit Juba Monday but the Easter holiday, the start of the Sudanese parliament and a function in Qatar delayed his arrival.

"The visit will not only open up more hopes for progress on current negotiations, especially the recent implementation matrix, but will also raise hopes for future cooperation in different areas that could be achieved by the countries," Benjamin said, without giving the new date for Bashir's visit.

In his address at the opening of the National Assembly in Khartoum, Bashir said Monday he ordered the release of all political detainees in the country, although it wasn't clear whether the decree would include those on trial for attempting to overthrow the government, the Sudan Tribune said.

Bashir said his government was committed to communications with all groups, regardless of political affiliations, to resolve issues and clear a path for reaching agreement on the new constitution.

Yassar Arman, secretary-treasurer of Sudan People Liberation Movement North, called Bashir's speech "old milk in a new bottle."


Syria month death toll said a record 6,000

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 2 (UPI) -- More than 6,000 people were killed in the Syrian civil war last month, the deadliest month yet in the 2-year-old conflict, a leading activist group said.

The March dead included 298 children, 291 women, 1,486 rebel fighters and army defectors and 1,464 regime soldiers, said the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of sources across Syria. The 588 other dead were unidentified but documented by individual photos and video, the observatory said.

The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad provides no death tolls for the civil war.

The conflict has often seen daily death tolls top 150 as regime shelling and aerial bombardments increase amid escalating clashes between loyalist forces and rebel fighters.

The March toll surpassed August 2012 as the deadliest month, when airstrikes, clashes and shelling killed more than 5,400 people, he said.

More people were killed in March than in the first nine months of the uprising, which began March 15, 2011, with anti-government demonstrations that grew nationwide the following month and later turned into a civil war.

The observatory logged 3,893 deaths in February.

The March toll "does not include the thousands of forcibly disappeared persons in the regime's detention centers, nor the hundreds of kidnapped members of the regular forces and others taken captive by the rebels," the observatory said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The toll would possibly be twice as high if all the dead were able to be counted.

The observatory said the cumulative death toll in the past two years was 62,554, half of them civilians. Of that number, some 4,400 were children and more than 2,700 were women.

The United Nations estimated in February more than 70,000 people had been killed since the conflict began. It did not update its figure for March.

The death toll could not be independently confirmed because the Assad regime severely restricts access to journalists and outside observers.


Conn. likely to approve toughest gun law

HARTFORD, Conn., April 2 (UPI) -- Connecticut's Legislature will pass the nation's toughest gun law, top lawmakers predicted after agreeing on a measure that strengthens an assault-rifle ban.

"There were some who said 'the Connecticut effect' would wear off -- that it would wear off in Connecticut and it would wear off across the country," Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, a Democrat, said flanked by five other legislative leaders at a Monday night state Capitol news conference.

"What they didn't know was that Democrats and Republicans would come together and work to put together the strongest and most comprehensive bill in the United States to fight gun violence, to strengthen the security at our schools, and to provide the mental health services that are necessary," he said.

"Knowing that that tragedy happened in Connecticut, it was up to Connecticut to show the way," said House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, a Republican. "And I'm very proud to say ... the package that we are introducing ... has accomplished that goal."

The bipartisan deal -- which legislative leaders of both parties predicted would pass the 151-member state House and 36-member Senate Wednesday -- would strengthen the state's ban on semiautomatic assault rifles to include weapons such as the AR-15 used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Dec. 14.

Connecticut's law currently defines an assault rifle as having two military-style features, such as a pistol grip and a flash suppressor.

The new measure would require only one such feature.

A flash suppressor, attached to the muzzle of a rifle or other gun, reduces the gun's visible signature while firing by rapidly cooling the burning gases that exit the muzzle. Its primary purpose is to reduce the chances a shooter will be blinded in low-light conditions.

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