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Tensions rise between North, South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea declared all military and political agreements with South Korea "dead" today, warning that it would not honor past accords if Seoul continues to push the Koreas to the brink of war. The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea accused South Korean President Lee Myung Bak of raising tensions on the Korean peninsula with his hard-line position on Pyongyang. It warned that Lee's stance would only draw "a heavier blow and shameful destruction." "The group of traitors has already reduced all the agreements reached between the North and the South in the past to dead documents," the committee in charge of inter-Korean affairs said early today in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. Tensions between the two Koreas, which fought a bitter three-year war in the 1950s and remain divided by one of the world's most heavily armed borders, have been high since Lee took office in Seoul nearly a year ago.

Gregg possible choice for commerce secretary

WASHINGTON: Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, is under consideration for the commerce secretary post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet, raising the prospect that Democrats could gain a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate, according to two officials familiar with the selection process. Gregg, who faces re-election in 2010, is one of several people under consideration for the remaining Cabinet post for which Obama has no nominee. If Gregg were to resign from the Senate, his replacement would be chosen by New Hampshire's Democratic governor, John Lynch. Were Lynch to give the seat to a fellow Democrat, that would boost the party's count in the Senate to 59, including two independents who caucus with Democrats. And if Minnesota Democrat Al Franken ultimately joined the Senate, the number would grow to 60 - the threshold needed to deprive Republicans of the ability to use filibusters to block legislation. The Minnesota race is still in dispute.

Military judge hinders Guantanamo plans

WASHINGTON: A military judge threw a wrench yesterday into the Obama administration's plan to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, denying the government's request to delay the case of a detainee accused of planning the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. To halt proceedings for 120 days - as Obama wants in order to conduct a review - the Pentagon might now be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and possibly 20 other detainees facing trial in military commissions, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent, is facing arraignment Feb. 9 on capital charges relating to the al-Qaida strike on the Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. service members and injured 50 others in October 2000.

Sept. 11 memorial set for 10th anniversary

NEW YORK: The head of the agency that owns the World Trade Center site says the Sept. 11 memorial will open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. But that doesn't mean the memorial will be completed by then. Executive Director Chris Ward says the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is still determining exactly how much public access will be allowed while the construction continues. Reflecting pools over the twin towers' footprints and parapets with the victims' names engraved on them will be built by Sept. 11, 2011. Ward spoke at a state Assembly committee hearing yesterday.

Iraq bars Blackwater from security in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq said yesterday that it will bar Blackwater Worldwide from providing security protection for U.S. diplomats because its contractors used excessive force, sanctioning a company whose image was irrevocably tarnished by the 2007 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians. The move will deprive American diplomats of their main protection force in Iraq. Iraqis are bitter over the September 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Five former Blackwater guards pleaded not guilty Jan. 6 in federal court in Washington to manslaughter and gun charges in that shooting. A sixth is cooperating with the government. The Iraqi government has labeled the guards "criminals" and is closely watching the case. But even before the shooting, Blackwater had a reputation for aggressive operations and using excessive force in protecting American officials, an allegation the company has disputed.

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