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World Briefs I

North Korea Pulls Out of Missile Proliferation Talks

Los Angeles Times

Miffed by Washington's welcome to two high-ranking defectors, North Korea abruptly pulled out of missile proliferation talks scheduled for Wednesday, stalling U.S. efforts to persuade the Communist regime to curb its arms sales to rogue states such as Iran.

Li Gun, Pyongyang's deputy U.N. representative, said in a statement: "The U.S. offer of shelter to the criminals seriously damaged the climate, preventing our government from resuming the talks."

North Korea's Central News Agency said the defectors, North Korea's ambassador to Egypt and his diplomat brother, were about to be accused of embezzlement. It suggested that they sought refuge in the United States to avoid prosecution.

White House spokesman Barry Toiv said North Korea's decision to recall its delegation from the New York talks was "not unexpected" following the high-profile defections.

U.S. officials anticipate that the breakdown will be temporary. Although they admit there is no way to read the intentions of Kim Jong Il's secretive regime, they say North Korea has little to gain from breaking off the talks permanently.

Radiation Leak Angers Japanese

The Washington Post

An angry Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto Wednesday described the newest problem in the nation's troubled nuclear energy program, a long-standing radiation leak from corroded storage drums, as "unbelievable."

The state-run agency that operates Japan's nuclear program admitted Tuesday that radiation had leaked from some of the 2,000 drums of radioactive waste stored in Tokai, a village north of Tokyo. Although some water surrounding the underground drums had more than 10,000 times the allowable level of radiation, government officials said Wednesday that the local water supply is safe.

"It's unbelievable that (the nuclear agency) has neglected a warning" made after a 1982 inspection, Hashimoto said. Critics said the leak had been going on at least since 1982.

The incident is the latest in a series of accidents involving the state-run nuclear agency known as Donen. Nuclear power accounts for one-third of Japan's electricity, and the national government has been trying to win public support to build more reactors to expand the energy source. But recent revelations of sloppy nuclear power plant management and coverups of accidents have enraged an increasingly hostile public.

The Japanese public and government are extremely sensitive about radiation and nuclear safety. Yet despite its profound historical aversion to nuclear weapons and nuclear power, the government has been determined to make the country self-sufficient in energy production and no longer dependent on foreign oil.

California Court Rules for Age-Discriminated Employees

Los Angeles Times

In a victory for older workers, the California Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that employees who are discriminated against on the basis of age have the same legal rights as victims of race and gender bias.

The 6-1 ruling opens another avenue for older workers to bring discrimination complaints when they are fired or demoted and sends a strong message that the state has a fundamental interest in preventing age discrimination in the workplace.

"With this ruling, age discrimination is put on a similar footing with race and gender," said Antonio Lawson, who represented Altadena resident Joan Stevenson in the case.

At the age of 60, Stevenson lost a secretarial job she had held for 30 years. Because of what she called poor legal advice, she failed to file a complaint with a state agency alleging age discrimination, an administrative step that a lower court held was required before a lawsuit could be filed.

The court's ruling now makes it possible for victims to proceed directly to the courts. "I am sure there are many people in my situation," Stevenson said Wednesday.