2d nuclear track for N. Korea?

North Korea has constructed a plant to manufacture a gas needed for uranium enrichment, according to a previously unpublicized account by the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb program, a development that indicates Pyongyang opened a second way to build nuclear weapons as early as the 1990s.

Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan also said that North Korea may have been enriching uranium on a small scale by 2002, with "maybe 3,000 or even more" centrifuges, and that Pakistan helped the country with vital machinery, drawings, and technical advice for at least six years.

Khan's account could not be independently corroborated, and one nuclear scientist said he could be trying to get himself off the hook for his own role in proliferation. - Washington Post

Violence feared in Hmong expulsion

PHETCHABUN, Thailand - Thailand early this morning launched an operation to close a refugee camp and send about 4,000 ethnic Hmong back to Laos, despite concerns about their safety.

The Hmong, an ethnic minority group from Laos' rugged mountains, say they fear political persecution in that country, where many fought on the side of a pro-U.S. Lao government in the 1960s and '70s before the communist takeover of their country in 1975. The group has been held at a camp in northern Thailand that the government wants to close.

A government spokesman said Bangkok had secured an agreement with Laos to repatriate the group before the end of the year. - AP

Pope ventures out after knockdown

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI waded into a crowd of well-wishers in Rome yesterday, just days after he was knocked down by a woman at a Christmas Eve Mass.

It was the 82-year-old pontiff's first appearance outside the Vatican since the attack, which left him unhurt but raised security concerns.

Security was tight yesterday, although Benedict greeted well-wishers as usual. He kissed some children and caressed the hands of others as he entered a soup kitchen operated by the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Catholic group based in Rome, near the Vatican.

Many in the crowd applauded, some shouting "Viva il Papa!" or "Long live the Pope!" - AP

Elsewhere:

Israeli authorities said yesterday that 16,200 Jews moved to the country in 2009, the first increase in a decade.

At least seven more pilgrims were killed yesterday in Iraq, adding to a death toll already in the dozens during the 10-day religious ceremonies that culminated yesterday with huge processions.

Seven people have been killed by avalanches in northern Italy, officials said yesterday. Among the dead were two Italian tourists and four rescuers who were looking for them. A German teen died separately.

About 125 pilot whales died in New Zealand after stranding on the beach over the weekend, but vacationers and conservation workers yesterday managed to get 43 others back out to sea.