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In the World

Saudis are urged to free activist

CAIRO - Human Rights Watch urged Saudi authorities Tuesday to free a female activist who led an online campaign against the country's driving ban and posted a video clip showing herself behind the wheel. The New York-based group said the arrest exposed the country to worldwide mockery.

Saudi clerics insist the ban protects against vice because female drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers.

Manal al-Sherif and other women started a Facebook page called "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself," urging an end to the ban. They posted a video clip last week of Sherif driving in the eastern city of Khobar.

She was briefly detained Saturday, and then Sunday she was arrested and charged with "violating the public order." She was ordered held for five days while the case was investigated. Her brother, Mohammed al-Sherif, who was in the car while she was driving, also was taken into custody. He was released Tuesday. - AP

U.S. aid team visits N. Korea

BEIJING - A U.S. team was in North Korea on Tuesday on an unusual mission to assess food shortages even as reclusive leader Kim Jong Il reportedly traveled to China to study economic reforms.

The team - led by Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues - will use its five-day visit to verify food-supply surveys conducted by the United Nations and U.S.-based charities and look for ways to monitor aid distribution.

The State Department said King would also raise human-rights concerns and press to free American Eddie Jun, held since November.

North Korea asked for food aid in January after summer floods hit staple crops. While humanitarian organizations say aid is urgently needed, the United States and other international donors distrust the secretive North Korean government, which has pursued illicit nuclear-weapons programs despite its dire food shortages. - AP

Court rejects plea by jailed Putin foe

MOSCOW, Russia - The Moscow City Court rejected an appeal by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire oil tycoon who is an opponent of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, against his conviction in a case that added six years to the eight years he had received in 2005. The court did cut his sentence by a year.

The former head of Yukos Oil Co. will spend a total of 13 years in prison, including the eight years he is serving on previous charges, Judge Vladimir Usov said Tuesday. The defense said it would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Khodorkovsky, 47, once Russia's richest man, was sentenced in December to the additional time in prison on fraud charges that he says were trumped up because of his opposition to Putin.

- Bloomberg News


The Pentagon said the wreckage of the U.S. helicopter destroyed in the military operation that killed Osama bin Laden was returned by Pakistan over the weekend.