IN BRIEF

The Baltimore Sun

Syrian president orders an embassy in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon : The president of Syria ordered his government yesterday to establish formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon, a move that could pave the way for normalizing decades of tangled ties between the two countries. President Bashar Assad issued a decree calling for the establishment of Syria's first-ever diplomatic mission in Lebanon, a small mountainous country carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire and long dominated by its larger neighbor. Establishing a Syrian mission in Beirut might mark a dramatic turning point if it leads to more transparency in the long-troubled relations between the two countries, analysts said.

IRS to mail overdue stimulus checks

Washington : The Internal Revenue Service says overdue economic stimulus checks will soon be mailed to about a quarter-million married couples who had been denied the money because a spouse's married name and Social Security number didn't match. When a couple marries and a spouse - usually the woman - changes names, the couple is supposed to alert the Social Security Administration. But tens of thousands have failed to do so and were unaware of the consequences until this year, when they didn't cash in on the rebate package enacted in February that resulted in payments to taxpayers of $600 to $1,200.

NASA to start remote fix of Hubble today

WASHINGTON: NASA engineers say they know how to fix the broken Hubble Space Telescope: They have to wake up computer parts that have been sleeping in space for more than 18 years. NASA will start a complicated remote-control fix today of a major glitch that stopped the telescope from capturing and beaming down pictures. Hubble should be able to send stunning astronomy photos back to Earth by Friday, officials said. The abrupt failure more than two weeks ago caused NASA to postpone its Hubble upgrade mission from October to about February. The delay is costing NASA about $10 million a month, officials said in a teleconference yesterday. Art Whipple, manager of the Hubble systems management office, said he's confident the backup system will work but "it's obviously a possibility that things will not come up."

Panama ship freed from pirates off Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia : Soldiers from a semiautonomous Somali region, their guns blazing, freed a Panama-flagged cargo ship from pirates yesterday as other pirates failed to act on their threat to blow up an arms-laden Ukrainian ship if no ransom was paid. Relatives of crew members of the Ukrainian vessel, which is carrying battle tanks and other heavy weapons, have asked Ukraine to pay the ransom pirates have demanded. The demand started at $20 million but appears to have been reduced. The Panama-flagged vessel and its 11 crew members - nine Syrians and two Somalis - were freed after a gunbattle in which one soldier was killed and three wounded, said Deputy Seaport Minister Abdiqadir Muse Geele. No hostages or pirates were hurt, Geele said. The 10 pirates who had held the ship since Thursday surrendered when they ran out of ammunition, said Geele, a deputy minister in the government of the northern Somalia semiautonomous region of Puntland. Pirates had threatened to destroy the Ukrainian ship by early Tuesday unless ransom was paid. But the U.S. Navy said the deadline passed without incident.

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