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Yemen: Al-Qaida threat

SAN'A — The deputy chief of al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen called for attacks on Saudi Arabia and U.S. interests in the region in a new audio message posted Monday on the Internet.

The statement, purportedly by Said al-Shihri, urged followers "to attack the interests of America and the Crusaders, and their agents ... especially the Saudi" rulers who he claimed wage a proxy war against Muslims on U.S. behalf.

Yemen's Interior Ministry dismissed the threat, saying it reflected "increasing isolation and despair" on the part of the al-Qaida group.

The audio message is the first time al-Shihri surfaced since a Dec. 24 airstrike by Yemeni forces that targeted him and other al-Qaida figures in this impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.

France: Ship sale plans

PARIS — France has agreed to sell Russia an advanced amphibious warship and is considering a Russian request for three more, French defense officials said Monday. It would be the first major arms deal between Russia and a NATO member.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy approved the sale of one of the Mistral-class force projection and command vessels after months of discussions. Since then, Russian naval officials requested three more, said Jacques de Lajugie, head of international development at the French arms agency DGA.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told French officials on Monday that he was concerned about their plans to sell Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia, although there is little if anything the United States could do to block the deal, officials said.

Canada: Accused

TORONTO — The commander of Canada's largest Air Force base, who once flew dignitaries around the country, has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two women

Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas said Monday that Col. Russell Williams, 46, was also charged in the sexual assaults of two other women. Williams was arrested Sunday in Ottawa.

The charges left Canada's military in a state of shock.

Williams, a 23-year military veteran, was appointed as the base commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, last July.

Williams is charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, of a Belleville, Ontario, resident whose body was found earlier Monday, and Marie Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal found dead in her Brighton, Ontario, home in November.

Mexico: Drug arrests

LA PAZ — Two reputed leaders of a drug cartel that waged a years-long terror campaign in Tijuana were arrested Monday in the Baja California port city of La Paz, according to U.S. authorities.

Raydel Lopez Uriarte and Manuel Garcia Simental are believed to be top lieutenants of a gang blamed for a string of massacres, police killings, beheadings and kidnappings that caused many residents to flee the border city.

The arrests by Mexican federal police, coming one month after the capture of alleged leader Teodoro Garcia Simental, are the latest blows against the gang. Authorities feared Lopez Uriarte and Manuel Garcia Simental, Teodoro's younger brother, were planning to reignite a gang war over control of Tijuana's drug-trafficking routes.

U.A.E.: Skyscraper

DUBAI — The world's tallest skyscraper has unexpectedly closed to the public a month after its lavish opening, disappointing tourists headed for the observation deck and casting doubt over plans to welcome its first permanent occupants in the coming weeks.

Electrical problems are at least partly to blame for the closure of the Burj Khalifa's viewing platform — the only part of the half-mile high tower open yet. But a lack of information from the spire's owner left it unclear whether the rest of the largely empty building — including dozens of elevators meant to whisk visitors to the tower's more than 160 floors — was affected by the shutdown. The indefinite closure began Sunday.