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U.S. ENVOY CITES OBSTACLES TO RUSSIA'S JOINING WTO

A top U.S. trade envoy praised recent reforms in Russia but said Saturday after talks in Moscow that the government must overcome several obstacles before it can join the World Trade Organization, news reports said.

Trade Representative Robert Zoellick held high-level talks Friday and Saturday focusing on Russia's 6-year-old efforts to join the 142-nation WTO.

Zoellick noted "serious progress that has recently been achieved by Russia in reforming its economy and developing its social sphere," the Russian government's news service said after his meeting Saturday with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

But he warned that it was too early to talk of a membership date because of a "mass of practical barriers" that the government must overcome first, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

One of several obstacles to WTO membership is Washington's refusal to recognize Russia as a market economy.

The U.S. Commerce Department said it had received the Russian petition to be included in the list of market economies worldwide, and Zoellick promised Saturday that the United States would soon consider the petition.

Image-conscious Tijuanans oppose Satanic area code

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Business leaders in Tijuana have asked the federal government to change their new area code, concerned the number 666 will worsen the border city's reputation for violence.

The number is associated with Satan in the Bible.

Just across the border from San Diego, Tijuana has seen several police officials assassinated and dozens of people killed in drug-related violence. The city reputedly is the headquarters of the Arellano Felix gang, Mexico's most violent drug cartel.

In the biblical Book of Revelation, verse 13:18 reads, "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred threescore and six."

Straighter Leaning Tower will reopen in December

PISA, Italy (AP) -- Pisa's Leaning Tower will be reopened to the public in December, more than a decade after it was closed to visitors so that workers could reduce its slant.

City officials said Saturday that tourists will be allowed to make the dizzying climb up the tower starting Dec. 15, but added that it remains to be determined how many tourists will be let in and how far up they will be allowed to go.

For most of the past decade, the 180-foot tall marble monument was girdled in steel and anchored by a pair of slender steel "suspenders" running across the surrounding plaza, as experts sought to reverse the tower's lean enough to ensure it wouldn't topple. Work ended in June.

By using hundreds of tons of lead counterweights at the base and digging soil from under the foundations, engineers shaved 17 inches off the lean and guided the tower back to where it was in 1838.

The tower now leans 13.5 feet off perpendicular.

Nuke disaster drill marks anniversary of '99 accident

TOKYO (AP) -- Kindergarten and elementary school students donned gauze masks and vacated their classrooms Saturday as part of a nuclear disaster drill staged before the anniversary of Japan's worst atomic energy accident.

About 2,600 people -- including pupils, local officials and soldiers from the Self Defense Forces -- participated in the exercise, which centered on the town of Tokaimura, a rural community 70 miles northeast of Tokyo.

A radiation leak at a fuel-reprocessing plant there on Sept. 30, 1999, killed two workers and affected hundreds of others. The disaster was triggered when two workers tried to save time by mixing excessive amounts of uranium in buckets instead of using special mechanized tanks.

Six former reprocessing plant officials have been charged with negligence in the 1999 radiation leak.

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