Former U.N. ambassador enters N. Korea

WASHINGTON

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, became a surprise intermediary between the United States and North Korea, meeting last night in his state with two envoys from the communist country.

“I want to be able to help my country,” said Richardson, who was sworn in Jan. 1 as governor. He had visited North Korea on two diplomatic missions while he was still a member of Congress during the 1990s.

The initiative for the meeting was taken by North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Han Song Ryol. It came as the United States was awaiting a response from Pyongyang to meetings held Monday and Tuesday among U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials on the North Korean nuclear situation.

The United States offered in a joint statement to hold talks with North Korea on the dispute over its resumption of a nuclear weapons program.

Richardson greeted the North Koreans outside the governor’s mansion in Santa Fe. They shook hands and went inside for what the governor’s spokesman described as a three-hour working dinner.

North Korean diplomats require U.S. permission to leave New York City, and Secretary of State Colin Powell granted it on Wednesday to facilitate the talks in Santa Fe, N.M. A second diplomat, Mun Jong Chol, was joining Han.

Bank workers support Venezuelan strike

CARACAS, Venezuela

Thousands of Venezuelan bank workers stayed home yesterday to support a nationwide strike seeking new presidential elections, further weakening the currency as analysts speculate the government of Hugo Chavez is running out of money.

Chavez supporters, meanwhile, attacked several opposition demonstrations at oil facilities around the country.

“Chavistas” attacked a rally outside a refinery in Cardon, 270 miles east of Caracas, wounding a 40-year-old worker and a 28-year-old demonstrator, said Luis Arends, a civil defense worker.

In Caracas, gunmen fired several shots and threw tear gas at an opposition rally. No one was hurt, and the rally resumed. There were no arrests.

Chavez supporters armed with machetes and sticks also prevented a demonstration at an oil facility in central Carabobo state, Globovision television reported. A minor clash occurred at a plant in Barinas state.

The nationwide strike begun Dec. 2 has shut thousands of businesses and brought Venezuela’s vital oil industry – a top U.S. supplier and once the world’s fifth-largest exporter – to a virtual halt. Gas has been imported.

Germany bulldozes old Nazi bunkers

FRANKFURT, Germany

The government began tearing down six more bunkers from Hitler’s infamous West Wall yesterday against the wishes of some German historians and war veterans who want the remaining concrete and steel fortifications saved as historic memorials.

The leader of the Third Reich built 20,000 bunkers, trenches and tank dugouts along a 940-mile line, also known as the Siegfried Line, stretching along the German border from near Basel, Switzerland to Kleve in northern Germany.

Pneumatic drills pounded away yesterday on the first of six structures to be demolished this winter after the local government in the village of Rheinau, on the French border and 105 miles southwest of Frankfurt, complained the bunkers were a safety hazard. The federal government worried they were potential gathering place for neo-Nazis.

Prosecutor aids teen, killed by father

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.

Kern County’s No. 2 prosecutor Stephen Tauzer put his reputation on the line to keep a methamphetamine-addicted Lance Hillis out of jail. And Tauzer’s support didn’t end there. He offered the young man his home, money, even a car.

Those favors put Tauzer on a collision course with Hillis’ father, Chris Hillis, a former cop who felt his son was beyond the reach of rehabilitation and needed jail time to sober up.

Chris Hillis allegedly warned he would kill Tauzer if anything happened to his 22-year-old son.

Tauzer was found dead Sept. 15 on the floor of his garage, a knife sticking out of his head.

Hillis, 48, is now behind bars on murder charges.

EPA unveils new water clean-up plan

WASHINGTON

The Environmental Protection Agency is clearing the way for states to create trading programs that will allow industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants to buy and sell each other’s pollution.

The trading programs will rely on economic incentives to meet federal water quality standards, EPA officials say, possibly saving the public hundreds of millions of dollars in water cleanup costs.

“It applies to anyone who’s looking for a least-cost way to meet water quality standards,” G. Tracy Mehan III, who heads EPA’s Office of Water, said yesterday. “Because of the efficiency and the cost savings, it reduces the barriers and hopefully speeds up cleanup of our impaired waters.”

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