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Rising Sun adopted as official symbol

The Rising Sun flag and an ode to the emperor were officially voted Japan's symbols on Monday after years of debate over whether the move would be a sign of resurgent nationalism.

The upper house of Parliament voted in favor of the bill after overwhelming approval by the lower house last month.

The law was denounced by Asian politicians and academics who see the flag and anthem as symbols of Japan's militarist past.

The Rising Sun _ a red disc on a white field _ and the Kimigayo imperial hymn have long served as de facto national symbols. However, they have not been legally sanctioned as national symbols since World War II because, to many Japanese and other Asians, the symbols represent Japanese aggression in the 1930s and '40s.

The law does not oblige anyone to sing the anthem or show respect for the flag.

China rules out papal

trip to Hong Kong

HONG KONG _ The Chinese government has ruled out a possible visit to Hong Kong by Pope John Paul II, Roman Catholic authorities said Monday.

The reason for the decision was unclear, with some church officials blaming the Vatican's diplomatic ties with Taiwan and others pointing to China's tight restrictions on religious practices.

In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry said the visit would be a "complicated issue" because the Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

The news agency of the Vatican's missionary branch said the issue was not Taiwan but religious freedom.

China's Communist government forced Catholics to sever ties with the Vatican and put their churches under a Patriotic Association in the 1950s.

10-million need food

aid, U.N. agency warns

ROME _ Civil war, drought and pests have crippled food production in sub-Saharan Africa, where hundreds of thousands of people risk starvation, a U.N. agency said Monday.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report that 10-million people in 16 countries require emergency food aid.

The worst off, said FAO's senior economist, Mwita Rukandema, is Angola, where renewed fighting in the civil war has made aid delivery virtually impossible.

"People are being systematically driven out of their homes by UNITA rebel forces, who cut off roads, ambush vehicles and shell the cities," said Rukandema. "If this continues, in another two months we'll hear horrible stories of mass starvation."

Thieves leave behind

famed "Quo Vadis' slab

ROME _ Thieves broke into a 4th century basilica in Rome and stole several paintings but left behind a marble slab known as "Quo Vadis" that the faithful believe bears the footprints of Christ.

The Rev. Osvaldo Salvi speculated the thieves didn't know the stone's value and left it behind because it was heavy, the newspaper Il Messaggero said Monday.

The rectangular, platter-sized slab was taken from its protective case in a chapel in the Basilica of Saint Sebastian but was undamaged. Instead, the thieves took several paintings, two 17th century wooden busts and an 18th century walnut cabinet.

North Korea says U.S.

warnings could mean war

SEOUL, South Korea _ Already high tensions in the Korean peninsula rose a notch Monday, with North Korea accusing the United States of trying to start a war in the region by insisting the Communist country put off a test missile launch.

Emotions have been running strong since reports surfaced recently that North Korea plans to test the long-range missile, despite warnings from the United States, South Korea and Japan. Some fear the test could accelerate arms-buying in Northeast Asia and further isolate the reclusive North Korea.

The Pyongyang government's Korean Central News Agency carried a report of a commentary in the ruling party's newspaper, which implied that U.S. warnings to the North to drop any plans for a missile launch could lead to war.

"The frantic U.S. maneuvers going on in the Far East prove that the next war may break out on the Korean peninsula," the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said. "In the Balkan war, the U.S. tested a Korean War scenario."

Romania auctions off

Ceausescu's possessions

BUCHAREST, Romania _ A decade after Romania's Communist President Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed, the government began auctioning off everything from his car to his chess set.

A wooden desk set embedded with mother-of-pearl given to Ceausescu by former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos went for $800, while a clock from Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev in 1976 sold for $1,625.

The government will keep the money from the auction, using part of it for the upkeep of Ceausescu's various palaces.

Oil recycling plant

explodes in Calgary

CALGARY, Alberta _ A series of explosions rocked an oil recycling plant Monday, injuring at least five people and sending a huge plume of toxic black smoke into the sky.

Police and fire crews blocked off the area in southeast Calgary around the Hub Oil plant and evacuated residents from nearby neighborhoods.

Capt. John Conley of the Calgary fire department said the blaze was believed to have started in the oil storage tanks, but he did not know the cause.

Firefighting crews were waiting for the situation to stabilize before they could safely fight the fire, he said.

Conley said five people were taken to hospital, one in serious condition, and two workers were missing.

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