World Briefs: Comet, probe finally meet

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DARMSTADT, Germany -- Turning what seemed like a science fiction tale into reality, an unmanned probe swung alongside a comet on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile chase through outer space over the course of a decade.

Europe's Rosetta probe will orbit and study the giant lump of dust and ice known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it hurtles toward the sun and, if all goes according to plan, drop a lander onto the comet in the coming months.

The incredible trip, launched on March 2, 2004, marks a milestone in mankind's effort to understand the mysterious 'shooting stars' that periodically flash past Earth.

The landing maneuver for Rosetta's sidekick, Philae, will pose an unprecedented challenge because there will be no second shot. Recent pictures of 67P show that its surface is porous, with steep cliffs and house-sized boulders.

N. Korea snubs pope

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has declined to send a delegation to a Mass that Pope Francis will preside over during a visit to Seoul this month, Roman Catholic officials in South Korea said Wednesday.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit South Korea from next Thursday to Aug. 18, in his first trip to Asia as pope. In May, Catholic leaders in South Korea invited North Korea's government-run Korean Catholic Association to attend a Mass that the pope is scheduled to lead Aug. 18 in Seoul.

North Korean defectors have said that no religious activities are allowed in the country, outside of a handful of churches and temples that they say are run by the government to create the impression that it allows religious freedom.

Italy back in recession

FRANKFURT, Germany -- The Italian economy shrank in the second quarter, according to an official estimate Wednesday, taking economists by surprise and provoking concern that violence in Ukraine and tension with Russia could be pushing the broader eurozone back into recession.

Italy's gross domestic product contracted 0.2 percent from April through June, compared with the first quarter of 2014, Istat, the Italian statistics office, said in a preliminary estimate. It was the second quarterly decline in a row for Italy, meeting the most common definition of a recession.

Massive Sweden forest fire

STOCKHOLM -- Sweden's forest owners are preparing for large losses as French and Italian water-bombing planes arrived Wednesday to help emergency services gain control of the biggest forest fire in the Nordic country's modern history.

Sweden has had a dry and hot summer, increasing the risk of forest fires. Temperatures in the region reached 95.2 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, the highest August temperature recorded in Sweden since 1992. Dry heat and wind Monday drove the flames into treetops.

Also in the world ...

A U.S. drone strike against a compound in the North Waziristan tribal district Wednesday killed at least six people, Pakistani officials and local residents said; it was the latest in a series of strikes by CIA-operated drone aircraft to coincide with a major offensive by the Pakistani military in the area. ... Japan marked the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bomb attack on the western city of Hiroshima on Wednesday, as tens of thousands of people attended an annual ceremony.

-- Compiled from news services



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