World briefs: Is N. Korean nuke test near?

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has increased diplomatic and military efforts against a possible North Korean nuclear weapons test as the totalitarian state showed signs of moving forward with preparations.

Arrangements are "nearly complete" at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, about 230 miles northeast of Pyongyang, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters Monday in Seoul.

Meanwhile, the United States and South Korea on Monday began joint naval exercises in waters east of the Korean peninsula.

Pirates holding 17 sailors

HONG KONG -- A French-owned oil tanker that went missing off the Ivory Coast is believed to have been hijacked by pirates who are holding the 17 sailors on board, a maritime agency said Monday.

The seizure of the tanker, registered in Luxembourg, likely took place Sunday, said Noel Choong, a spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He said the seizure may be tied to a recent series of attacks by pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea.

Italy rebate criticized

ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi's campaign promise to give Italian taxpayers a cash rebate of 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) was criticized Monday by Prime Minister Mario Monti as an attempt to buy votes.

The rivalry between Mr. Monti and Mr. Berlusconi, a three-time former premier, has escalated as Italy approaches parliamentary elections Feb. 24-25. Mr. Monti replaced Mr. Berlusconi in November 2011 and imposed austerity to protect Italy from the worst of the Europe's debt crisis.

Myanmar peace talks held

BANGKOK -- China hosted peace talks between the Myanmar government and ethnic Kachin rebels Monday, as pressure grew on both sides to end the intense fighting of recent weeks.

The meeting ended without a commitment to stop the clashes, which have left at least several hundred soldiers dead and displaced tens of thousands of civilians in the northernmost reaches of Myanmar, near the Chinese border. But the talks were notable for China's prominent role in getting both sides to the negotiating table.

Sihanouk cremated

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodians bade goodbye Monday to former King Norodom Sihanouk, their revered "King-Father" who led them through half a century of political tumult that took them into the abyss of genocidal Khmer Rouge rule and back out again.

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians thronged the capital for the elaborate royal cremation. After sunset, King Sihanouk's son King Norodom Sihamoni and widow, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, both weeping, ignited the funeral pyre inside a temple-like, 15-story-high crematorium.

King Sihanouk's body had been lying in state since he died of a heart attack in Beijing on Oct. 15 at the age of 89.

New archbishop

LONDON -- On the eve of a divisive vote in Parliament on the legalization of same-sex marriage, Justin Welby, former bishop of Durham, Monday took over formally as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans, saying he shares the Church of England's opposition to marriage among people of the same gender.

Archbishop Welby, 57, was confirmed in his new post at a ceremony in St. Paul's Cathedral attended by other senior bishops of the church. He is to be enthroned next month at a ceremony in Canterbury, replacing the Most Rev. Rowan Williams who held the position for 10 years.

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