N.M. Gov. Richardson to Visit N. Korea, Asylum Ferry Sinks Near Australia

BY Francine Uenuma  December 15, 2010 at 8:23 AM EDT

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is traveling to North Korea on a personal, privately funded trip intended to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Richardson was invited by North Korea, which has been denied direct talks with the United States and has traded threatening rhetoric with South Korea since the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23.

Richardson has traveled to North Korea in the past to negotiate the release of jailed Americans, and has served as an unofficial liaison. While the U.S. government is emphasizing that he will not deliver an official message, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that, as with past visits, Richardson will likely “report back after he’s done.”

“If I can contribute to the easing of tension on the peninsula, the trip will be well worth it,” said Richardson.

Before serving as governor of New Mexico, Richardson was ambassador to the United Nations.


South Korean residents wear gas masks during a civil defence drill at a temporary shelter of an apartment house in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, on Dec. 15, 2010. Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, South Korea held a national emergency drill, preparing for a possible military attack. Jets flew low over Seoul and Busan, and students were sent to underground bunkers in the largest drill of its kind in 35 years. North Korea maintains that the provocation is coming from South Korea and has threatened of nuclear retaliation.

Ferry Filled with Asylum Seekers Overturns Near Australia

At least 27 people, including many women and children, are dead after a ferry smashed against a wall of rocks off of Christmas Island, about 750 miles from mainland Australia.

Rescuers were able to pull some survivors from the choppy waters, but some died after being in the water for several hours. The vessel was believed to be carrying asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is returning from a holiday trip to oversee the rescue and recovery effort.

Bombing at Iranian Mosque Kills at Least 39

Two bombs exploded at a Shia mosque in the city of Chahbahar, killing at least 39 people. A Sunni Muslim rebel group called Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted worshippers marking the mourning period known as Ashura.

Iranian officials said they had arrested a third man after the first was killed in the explosion and a second was killed on scene by police.

Iranian officials are also laying blame on intelligence services in Pakistan and the United States, which it says has supported Jundallah.

ICC Names Suspects in Connection with 2007 Kenya Violence

Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court named seven people, including high-ranking government officials, on charges related to the country’s election-related violence in 2007 and the beginning of 2008.

The violence started when incumbent president Mwai Kibaki declared victory over rival Raila Odinga, who eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal that made him prime minister. The ethnically motivated violence included the burning of a church with people trapped inside and resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people across the country.

TIME Magazine Names Facebook Co-Founder Person of the Year

TIME Magazine named Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, its Person of the Year for 2010 “[f]or connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives.” Zuckerberg, 26, started the site from his dorm at Harvard University. It now boasts 550 million members, and countless hours of usage, and a growth spurt that seemingly has yet to peak.