Gore accepts Nobel, warms

to task of delivering lecture

OSLO, Norway - He has said it again and again, with increasing urgency, to anyone who will listen. And yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore used the occasion of his 2007 Nobel Peace Prize lecture here to tell the world in powerful, stark language: Climate change is a "real, rising, imminent and universal" threat to the future of the Earth.

Saying that "our world is spinning out of kilter" and that "the very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed," Gore warned that "we, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency - a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here." But, he added, "there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst - not all - of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly."

Mortar round hits Baghdad prison, kills 5 inmates

BAGHDAD - Mortar shells crashed into an Iraqi prison at the Interior Ministry compound yesterday, landing in a cellblock and killing at least five inmates. Elsewhere, an explosive fire erupted in a storage tank at Baghdad's only oil refinery, sending smoke and flames high above the capital.

The U.S. military said an "industrial accident" caused the fire at the Dora refinery in Baghdad. But the chief Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Qassim al-Moussawi, said a rocket struck a storage tank, triggering the blaze.

The attack on the prison was part of an increase in violent incidents throughout the city over the past few days, which have included mortar or rocket fire on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone.

Also yesterday, a suicide car bomber killed one U.S. soldier and wounded two others in Salahuddin province, a mostly Sunni area north of Baghdad, the military said.

French prez defends

warm welcome for Gadhafi

PARIS - Moammar Gadhafi swept into town with all the trappings of his Bedouin heritage yesterday and got straight to business, cutting $14.7 billion in deals for arms and nuclear reactors on his first official visit to the West since renouncing terrorism and atomic weapons.

The warm welcome for the Libyan leader drew angry protests, including from France's human rights minister, who said rewarding a man accused of rights abuses with business deals was letting him treat France as "a doormat."

President Nicolas Sarkozy defended the visit, saying it is France's duty to encourage states that move toward international respectability. He alluded to Gadhafi's formal renunciation of terrorism and his decision to dismantle a secret Libyan program meant to develop atomic bombs.

Sarkozy suggested Libya's example could one day be applied to Iran should it agree to give up a nuclear program that Western powers suspect could be used to develop weapons.

"What would we say today to Iranian leaders if we don't extend our hand to the leader of Libya who chose to turn his back on nuclear arms and terrorism?" Sarkozy said.

A loyal Putin delivers

endorsement to loyal aide

MOSCOW - Dmitry Medvedev, the odds-on favorite to succeed President Vladimir Putin, has reaped the rewards of loyalty.

Barely 25 and fresh out of law school, Medvedev first caught the attention of Russia's future president in 1990 when both worked in St. Petersburg's city hall. For the next 17 years he was one of Putin's most trusted aides.

Yesterday, that dedication paid off, spectacularly, with Putin's endorsement of Medvedev to become his successor in the March 2 presidential election.

With Putin's prestige and the Kremlin's political machinery behind him, Medvedev, 42, seems all but certain of winning. "We have been close for more than 17 years, and I completely and fully support this choice," Putin said.

Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, is considered liberal and business-friendly compared to the hawkish KGB veterans whom Putin has placed in other powerful Kremlin posts.

Aussie P.M. 'horrified'

by lenient rape sentences

SYDNEY, Australia - Nine people who pleaded guilty to raping a 10-year-old girl were given suspended sentences or probation, national media said yesterday in reports that prompted outrage and a review of sexual assault cases in remote Aboriginal communities.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "horrified" by the reports of the result of the trial of a group of juveniles and young men charged with the rape of the child in the settlement of Aurukun in northern Queensland state in 2005.

District Court Judge Sarah Bradley placed six of the offenders, who were minors younger than 17 at the time of the rape, on 12 months probation and recorded no convictions against them. She gave suspended six-month prison sentences to the other defendants, aged 17, 18 and 26.

Bradley said in her sentencing remarks that the victim in this case "was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex with all of you," The Australian newspaper and Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

-Associated Press