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Energy secretary defends Solyndra loan

WASHINGTON — The bankruptcy of Solyndra, the solar power company that took $528 million in government loans, was “extremely unfortunate,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told lawmakers on Thursday. But he rejected a suggestion put forward by a Republican that he or his department should apologize.

Companies fail when “the bottom of the market falls out,” Chu testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That, he said, is what happened to the solar panel business, for two reasons that he maintained could not be foreseen.

But Republicans pursued the theme that the problem was incompetence and political influence. Rep. Clifford Stearns, R-Fla. and chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which held the hearing, said, “It is readily apparent that senior officials in the administration put politics before the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

—Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times

Opposition party in Myanmar might rejoin political process

BANGKOK — After more than two decades of persecution by Myanmar’s military, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi says it will decide Friday whether to rejoin the political system, a potential milestone for a country that appears to be gradually emerging from years of dictatorship and oppression.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, was outlawed after it refused to take part in elections last year and has until recently characterized the changes in Myanmar as cosmetic. The new political system was conceived and is dominated by former generals, including President Thein Sein.

But Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for most of the past two decades until her release a year ago, is now more inclined to cooperate with the government, U Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party, said Wednesday by telephone.

“The lady said the president is willing to change,” Nyan Win said, employing the polite term commonly used in Myanmar for Suu Kyi.

Nyan Win, a top official in the party, said he favored rejoining the political system, which would mean that party members, including Suu Kyi, would be eligible to run for office in coming by-elections.

—Thomas Fuller, The New York Times

Nuclear watchdog seeks mission to Iran

LONDON — Adding new pressures on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog group said on Thursday he wanted to send a high-level mission to Iran to investigate a report by his agency that Iranian scientists had engaged in secret and possibly “ongoing” efforts to construct a nuclear weapon.

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was addressing the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors at the start of a closed, two-day meeting in Vienna.

The gathering is trying to formulate a resolution reprimanding Iran and seeking greater clarity about its nuclear intentions while avoiding language that would prevent support from China and Russia — two nations that have frequently differed with the West over Iran.

The Associated Press quoted diplomats as calling the resolution a compromise that would express “serious concern” over Iran’s defiance of the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA board.

—Alan Cowell, The New York Times

Portugal refuses to extradite fugitive wanted in hijacking

MADRID — A Portuguese court Thursday denied a U.S. request to extradite the fugitive murderer and hijacker who was apprehended in September in a village outside Lisbon where he had lived since the 1990s, his lawyer said.

The United States had sought to have the fugitive, George Wright, 68, returned to finish the 15-to-30-year murder sentence that he was serving when he escaped from prison in 1970 and to face charges for a hijacking two years later. Wright commandeered a flight from Detroit along with several other hijackers. They demanded a $1 million ransom and to be flown to Algeria.

Wright’s lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, praised the ruling. He said he had not yet seen the ruling, but had been told that “all my main arguments were accepted,” including that Wright should not be extradited because he is now a Portuguese national.

—Raphael Minder, The New York Times

A twist on airline fees: pay to continue

PARIS — A planeload of passengers booked on a flight to Birmingham, England, operated by a recently founded Austrian-registered charter carrier, Comtel Air, found themselves stranded at the airport in Amritsar, India, after they declined to chip in about 10,000 rupees ($200) each to cover the cost of fuel and airport fees.

“I understand very well that there are passengers in Amritsar,” Bhupinder Kandra, the airline’s managing director and majority shareholder, said by telephone from Comtel’s head office in Vienna. “But nobody is ready to pay.”

Kandra said the incident was the result of a conflict between his airline and Skyjet Travel, an independent British tour operator, which he said had been selling tickets on Comtel’s behalf but had not been forwarding the fares to the airline since it began operating the Birmingham to Amritsar route last month, using a Boeing 757 leased from Mint Airways of Spain.

Calls to Skyjet’s offices in Ilford, north of London, went unanswered late Thursday and voice mail messages were not immediately returned.

—Nicola Clark, The New York Times