World news: Obama pledges to defend South Korea against North

US President Barack Obama has strongly condemned North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong island in South Korea and said the US would defend the South.

Mr Obama said North Korea was "a serious and ongoing threat that needs to be dealt with".

The attack near a disputed sea border was also denounced by Russia, Japan and the European Union.

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South Korea returned fire and threatened missile strikes if there were "further provocations".

President Obama described South Korea as an important ally and "a cornerstone of US security in the Pacific region".

He said: "We strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance. We want to make sure all the parties in the region recognise that this is a serious and ongoing threat that needs to be dealt with."

He called on North Korea's ally China to tell Pyongyang "that there are a set of international rules they need to abide by".

In a telephone conversation, Mr Obama and South Korean president Lee Myung-bak agreed to hold combined military exercises in the days ahead to underscore the strength of their alliance.

AN ACTIVIST dressed as a chicken holds a banner promoting vegetarianism to passers-by in meat-loving Hong Kong.

Sarkozy in 'paedophile' jibe row

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has sparked a media row by using the word "paedophile" at a briefing for journalists. When asked about alleged kickbacks over a French submarine sale, he said to link him to it would be as absurd as him calling a reporter a "paedophile".

General strike for Portugal

Portugal's unions hope to bring the country to a near standstill tomorrow as they stage a general strike in protest at planned wage cuts.

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Transport, industry and schools are set to be severely affected by the strike, the unions said.

The strike comes two days before the parliament in Lisbon is to vote on an austerity budget.

The action will hit banks, media and petrol supplies, the unions say.

They also aim to paralyse the country's ports and airports.

Ten held over Belgium plot

Police in three countries have arrested ten radical Islamists over a terrorist plot to attack Belgium, Belgian federal prosecutors say.

They were detained in police swoops in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany after a year-long investigation by police in Antwerp.

Haiti cholera: fears grow

The cholera epidemic in Haiti is spreading twice as fast as had been estimated and is likely to result in hundreds of thousands of cases in the coming months, the UN says.

The Haitian government says 1415 people are confirmed to have died from the disease so far.Ireland set to publish an austerity plan

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Ireland: The government is set to publish an austerity plan required for its EU- and IMF-led bail-out.

It follows another day of market angst, with shares down sharply yesterday.

Cambodia: Thousands lit candles and made offerings to appease the souls of those who perished in a riverside stampede that left nearly 400 people dead as investigators tried to determine the cause of the tragedy.