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ENGLAND

Royal Air Force says it sent warplanes

LONDON - The British Royal Air Force scrambled warplanes to intercept two Russian bombers off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England, the Defense Ministry said Thursday, as a government minister sounded alarms about the Kremlin’s intentions elsewhere in Europe.

The episode magnified concerns about the possibility of further moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin that could draw in the NATO alliance after advances by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Typhoon warplanes took off from an air base in eastern England and escorted the two Russian airplanes in international airspace “until they were out of the U.K. area of interest,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The encounter happened Wednesday.

“At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace,” the statement said. During the Cold War, Russian bombers routinely tested Western defenses by flying toward the coast, and there have been reports that the practice has been resumed as tensions have mounted over the conflict in Ukraine.

The number of intercepts of Russian military aircraft approaching Western airspace has tripled compared with 2013, British researchers said in November, citing NATO officials.

– New York Times

CHINA

U.S. to monitor China air quality

HONG KONG - The United States will expand air-quality monitoring at some overseas diplomatic missions, following several years of reporting pollution data in China, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday.

The goal is to increase awareness of the health risks of outdoor air pollution, which easily spreads across borders, Kerry said.

The program is intended to help U.S. citizens abroad reduce their exposure to pollution and to help other countries develop their own air-quality monitoring through training and exchanges with U.S. experts, he said.

“We’re hoping that this tool can also expand international cooperation when it comes to curbing air pollution,” Kerry said.

The program, run in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, will begin to operate in India in a few months.

New Delhi has some of the world’s worst air pollution, and residents there are becoming increasingly concerned about the dangers.

U.S. diplomatic missions will also monitor air quality in Vietnam, Mongolia and elsewhere, Kerry said.

– New York Times

GREECE

Germany dismisses loan extension request

ATHENS, Greece - Germany on Thursday dismissed Greece’s latest effort to resolve the impasse in debt negotiations between Athens and its creditors.

Greece, as expected, on Thursday requested a six-month extension of its loan agreement with the European Commission and European Central Bank. In a two-page letter to eurozone officials, the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said his country was prepared to “honor Greece’s financial obligations to its creditors.”

But a German Finance Ministry spokesman, Martin Jäger, quickly issued a statement saying the letter from Athens was “not a substantial proposal to resolve matters.” Germany, as the eurozone’s largest economy, is probably the central player in the proceedings.

The issue is how closely Greece is prepared to abide by the tough conditions underpinning its bailout loans, which total 240 billion euros ($273 billion).

– New York Times

JAPAN

North Korean leader sends out warning

TOKYO – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has signaled he may further purge top cadres, ordering senior Workers’ Party members to carry out a “campaign against abuse of power and bureaucratism.”

The party adopted the resolution at a politburo meeting to review his three years in power, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday. The statement called on members to implement the behests of his late father Kim Jong Il, “unconditionally carrying out them to the last without an inch of deflection and a single step of concession.”

The warning comes after Kim unleashed a series of purges to tighten his grip on power in the reclusive nation. The “Supreme Leader” last month executed a general who disagreed with him. He ordered the killing of his uncle and one-time deputy Jang Song Thaek in 2013 after accusations of graft and factionalism, and had about 50 officials executed last year on charges ranging from graft to watching South Korean soap operas.

– Bloomberg News