Pyongyang cancels talks with South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea

Cabinet-level talks aimed at reconciliation between North Korea and South Korea were canceled yesterday after Pyongyang failed to confirm that the meetings would take place, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

Seoul had hoped to use the meetings to persuade its communist neighbor to scrap its suspected nuclear weapons program. The cancellation is a setback for South Korean efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

The cancellation came ahead of a meeting tomorrow of the U.N. Security Council to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program.

The council could eventually discuss imposing sanctions against North Korea, if a political solution is not found. China and Russia have said they oppose sanctions.

North Korea has warned that it would regard international sanctions against its isolated regime as a declaration of war.

The Cabinet-level talks were supposed to take place in Pyongyang from yesterday until Thursday.

The two Koreas had agreed to meet during their last round of Cabinet-level talks in Seoul in January.

Court rules to uphold cross burning ban

WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court upheld a state ban on cross burning, ruling yesterday the history of racial intimidation attached to it outweighs the free speech protection of Ku Klux Klansmen or others who might use it.

A burning cross is a particularly powerful instrument of terror, and government should have the power to stamp out or punish its use as a weapon of intimidation, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote.

The protections afforded by the First Amendment “are not absolute,” she wrote.

The court voted 6-3 to uphold the ban, but split 5-4 on the narrower question of whether the law violates the constitutional guarantee of free speech. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the broad premise that states may bar cross burning, but did not agree with the court’s holding that the law was constitutional on free speech grounds.

Thomas, the court’s only black member, said the court didn’t even have to consider the First Amendment implications because a state has a right to bar conduct it considers “particularly vicious.”

Siberian re kills 21 students, 1 teacher

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia

A fire engulfed an old wooden school in the northern Siberian republic of Yakutia yesterday, killing 21 students and a teacher, emergency officials said.

Ten more students were hospitalized with burns and fractured bones after they tried to escape the flames by jumping out the windows of the two-story building, said Yelena Mineyeva, spokeswoman for Yakutia’s Emergency Situations Ministry. The students were between the ages of 11 and 18.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the fire a “major calamity” and ordered the federal government to fully cooperate with authorities in Yakutia, about 3,000 miles east of Moscow.

In televised comments, Putin instructed his Cabinet to “provide help to the republic and immediately to the families of the victims.”

Experts try to build tness into society

WASHINGTON

Try to take 10,000 steps a day, Dr. Julie Gerberding advised the congressmen, a mostly graying bunch with a bit of paunch who curiously fingered the beeper-sized step-counters she’d brought them.

It doesn’t sound like much, until you consider the average person takes far less than 4,000 steps a day. Our environment – long commutes, elevators, computer-dominated jobs, remote controls that keep us on the couch – makes it too easy to be sedentary.

Now instead of lecturing Americans to exercise, health officials are trying different experiments to build fitness back into society – playing music to entice elevator users onto the stairs, starting walk-to-school programs, constructing sidewalks and handing out pedometers. “We have to build opportunities for physical activity into everyday life,” explains William Dietz, fitness and nutrition chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Gerberding heads.

Couple, professor cheat at ‘Millionaire’

LONDON, ENGLAND

An army major, his wife and a college teacher were convicted yesterday of using “coded coughs” to win the top prize on Britain’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Charles Ingram maintained that luck, military training and strategy had helped him answer the $1.55 million question – “A number 1 followed by 100 zeros is known by what name?”

But prosecutors said college professor Tecwen Whittock used a system involving coded coughs from his seat in the audience to guide Ingram to the correct multiple-choice response: a googol.

The jury found 39-year-old Ingram, his wife Diana, 39, and Whittock, 53, guilty of deception in trying to win the contest.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin upbraided the defendants for a “shabby schoolboy trick.”

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