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News Briefs

New Sharon Government Sworn In


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s right-leaning government was sworn in early Friday, taking up the leadership of a country mired in conflict with the Palestinians, suffering its worst economic downturn in decades and holding its collective breath in the countdown to a prospective U.S.-led war with Iraq.

“The government I present today shall serve the entire people, and it is only the good of the state of Israel that will guide us,” the bespectacled 75-year-old prime minister told lawmakers as he presented his Cabinet for formal approval.

Watching somberly from their seats in the stone-lined Knesset chamber were members of the dovish Labor Party, which had spurned Sharon’s repeated appeals to serve with him in government. Labor had joined Sharon’s government in his first term.

“We all hope for your success,” the party’s leader, Amram Mitzna, told Sharon from the podium, speaking nearly one month after Sharon’s conservative Likud dealt Labor a crushing electoral defeat.

Mitzna departed from a statesmanlike tone only once -- with a pointed reminder that Sharon’s nearly two years in office have coincided with a time of national calamity. To Labor’s immense frustration, that fact did little to dent Sharon’s popularity with voters.

North Korean Military Makes Provocative Moves


Recent military moves by North Korea and the United States could increase the risk of an armed confrontation -- deliberate or accidental -- in the standoff over the North’s nuclear program, according to Asian and U.S. military experts.

North Korea has begun supplementing its harsh rhetoric with unusual acts by its armed forces. On Monday it test-fired an anti-ship missile off its eastern coast, rattling the inauguration of the new South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun. Last week, a North Korean MiG fighter jet intruded into South Korean air space for the first time in 20 years.

Earlier, North Korea threatened to abandon the armistice agreement that ended the fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War, and took successive steps to restart facilities capable of producing material for nuclear weapons.

Afghanistan’s Karzai Says U.S. Pledges More Aid


President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan urged President Bush on Thursday to increase U.S. assistance for his country’s reconstruction, and reported after a White House meeting that the United States promised to expand its aid to help repair electrical and irrigation systems.

Karzai, completing a second day in Washington, defended the upbeat reports he has been delivering to audiences in the capital, telling reporters that compared “with life in Basel, Switzerland, or Honolulu,” his accounts of life in Afghanistan may not seem rosy. But compared with conditions before the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001, the improvements are considerable, he said.

However, reflecting Washington’s shifting focus, he acknowledged that if the United States goes to war in Iraq, the amount of attention the U.S. government can give to Afghanistan may shrink -- but he said the dollars would not.

The budget measure Bush signed earlier this month includes $3.3 billion in aid to Afghanistan over four years, primarily for reconstruction and security.