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N. Korea says it has nuclear weapons

North Korea has turned the enriched uranium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons to serve as a deterrent against a nuclear strike by the United States, a North Korean minister said Monday.

Warning that the danger of war on the Korean peninsula "is snowballing," Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon blamed the United States for intensifying threats to attack the communist nation and destroying the basis for negotiations to resolve the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Choe said North Korea has been left with "no other option but to possess a nuclear deterrent" because of U.S. policies that he said were designed to "eliminate the DPRK by force while designating it as part of an "axis of evil' and a target of pre-emptive nuclear strikes." DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

When asked if the fuel had been turned into actual weapons, not just weapons-grade material, Choe said: "We declared that we weaponized this."

Choe told the U.N. General Assembly that North Korea is still ready to dismantle its nuclear program if Washington abandons its "hostile policy" and is prepared to coexist peacefully.

Putin sends election reform bill to Parliament

MOSCOW _ President Vladimir Putin put sweeping political reforms in motion Monday, sending to Russia's Parliament a bill on eliminating the popular election of regional governors and district Parliament races.

Putin has explained the proposal is a necessary response to the Beslan school hostage seizure and other terror attacks, saying a strong federal government is needed to fend off threats.

The motion would abolish popular elections of regional governors, who instead would be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures. Also under the bill, all elections to Parliament would be by party lists.

PUTIN SETS UP CENTER TO PROTECT RIGHTS: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Monday to set up a center that will help protect the rights of Russians in former Soviet republics. The decree establishes the International Human Rights Center and instructs Putin's regional envoys and local officials to cooperate with rights groups, the Kremlin said. Russian authorities have often criticized the treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in the former Soviet republics.

Accident at Dubai airport terminal kills at least 8

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates _ A crane smashed into a wall during construction of an unfinished terminal at Dubai's airport Monday, and witnesses reported at least eight workers were killed.

Two Dubai hospitals said they had received a total of 22 injured workers, including nine in serious condition.

An official from Aeroports de Paris International, the French company appointed as the design consultant for the expansion, said a crane carrying a metal girder smashed into steel reinforcements supporting a concrete wall.

The Dubai facility bills itself as "the world's fastest growing airport" and is engaged in a $4.1-billion expansion that will boost its capacity from 22-million passengers per year to 60-million per year in 2018.

Also . . .

DIAMOND THEFT: Thieves stole two diamonds worth more than $14.2-million from a case at a Paris antique show Monday, police said. Thieves made off with a 47-carat white diamond worth $7.4-million and a 15.74-carat blue diamond valued at $6.8-million, police said.

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