World News: American envoy warns of Korea peninsula 'tinderbox'

An unofficial US envoy visiting North Korea has warned that the situation on the peninsula is a "tinderbox".

The envoy, Bill Richardson, made the comments after talks with officials in Pyongyang, whom he asked to exercise "extreme restraint".

He said he had urged them to let South Korea go ahead with planned live-firing exercises on an island which was shelled by the North last month. Pyongyang has been threatening to strike back if the drill goes ahead.

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New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is visiting Pyongyang in a private capacity, but he has in the past acted as a go-between with North Korea - with whom the US has no formal diplomatic ties.

He told reporters he had made "a little headway" in his talks with North Korean officials.

"I am urging them extreme restraint. Let's cool things down. No response. Let the exercises take place," he said.

"Right now this is a tinderbox. What we need to do right now is not just tamp things down, but look at steps that can be taken by the North Koreans, especially, such as perhaps allowing the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency] to come in and look at the nuclear arsenal."

President granted more power

Venezuela's parliament has granted President Hugo Chavez special powers to deal with the aftermath of devastating floods.

He will be able to pass laws by decree, without needing the support of congress. His critics say it will turn the country into a near-dictatorship.

Haiti cholera source probed

The United Nations has set up an independent panel to investigate the source of cholera in Haiti.

The move comes after accusations that UN peacekeepers from South Asia introduced the disease to the poverty-stricken country. The UN has previously denied any link.

Sudan denies funds scandal

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Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has been accused of siphoning off up to $9 billion of his country's funds and placing it in foreign accounts, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.

Diplomats quoted the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as saying that much of the money may be stashed in London banks.

Sudan has denied the allegations which have been released by the Wikileaks website.

New tenants for space station

The International Space Station got three new tenants today, doubling in crew size with the arrival of a Russian Soyuz capsule.

The Soyuz delivered an American, an Italian and a Russian for a five-month stay. They floated into the orbiting lab two days after their launch from Kazakhstan.

Obama gives workers early Christmas gift

United States: President Barack Obama has signed into law a compromise tax bill agreed with the Republicans, averting income tax rises for millions of Americans.

Mr Obama said the $858bn (542bn) package was "real money that's going to make a real difference".

Mexico: More than 140 prisoners have escaped from a jail near the border.

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The prisoners broke out of the jail in Nuevo Laredo early yesterday.