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Senior curator Brandie Smith feeds giant panda Tai Shan a bit of pear shortly before the panda left the National Zoo.
Senior curator Brandie Smith feeds giant panda Tai Shan a bit of pear shortly before the panda left the National Zoo.
Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

China: Panda trip

WASHINGTON — They were treated like pop idols — except for being stuck in travel crates.

Adoring crowds and television viewers watched Thursday as American-born giant pandas Mei Lan and Tai Shan were loaded onto a special cargo jet for a flight to their new homes in China for breeding.

Normally placid, 3-year-old Mei Lan from Zoo Atlanta whirled and paced in her crate as flashbulbs popped. Tai Shan, a 4-year-old born in Washington, hid at first but was drawn into view as his longtime keepers at the National Zoo knelt silently at his crate to say goodbye, hand-feeding him slices of apples and pears.

Korea: Food flows

SEOUL — Facing food shortages, severe price increases and social unrest, North Korea appears to have relaxed, at least temporarily, its broad crackdown on private markets, news reports and officials in Seoul said Thursday. If confirmed, the move to allow the buying and selling of goods outside the country's tightly controlled state distribution system could signal a political setback for the government of Kim Jong Il. North Korea had recently introduced a new currency and closed the country's private markets in an effort to restore a purer form of socialist central economic planning.

Jamaica: Cleric returns

KINGSTON — A radical Muslim cleric who served time in a British jail for inciting murder and was recently deported to his native Jamaica said Thursday that he has been unfairly demonized by the media. Abdullah el-Faisal, who was sent home from Kenya last month, said in a television interview that he is not a violent person. He dismissed Britain's claims that his teachings heavily influenced one of the bombers in the 2005 London transport network attacks that killed 52 people.

Iran: Illegal sales

MIAMI — A Taiwanese man has been arrested on charges of exporting a series of prohibited items to Iran, including missile components and engines that can be used in unmanned military drones, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Yi-Lan Chen, 40, arranged at least 30 banned shipments to Iran since 2007, according to an affidavit by a U.S. Commerce Department enforcement agent. Most involved "dual use" items that have both commercial and military applications.

Arrested this week in Guam, Chen waived extradition at a hearing Thursday and will be flown to Miami to face trial, prosecutors said.

Europe: U.S. snub?

PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel brushed off President Barack Obama's decision not to attend an annual summit with European leaders while stressing Thursday the importance of Russia as a European partner. Since Monday's announcement that Obama would miss the EU-U.S. summit in May, European media have been awash with commentary wondering what the White House's snub means for Europe as it struggles to find a united voice in foreign affairs following the creation of the new posts of EU president and foreign minister. "With the United States, I don't understand the debate," Sarkozy said. "Is that our only problem in the world today?"