Live-fire drills postponed; U.N. meeting scheduled

South Korea’s military waited for better weather to hold live-fire drills that the North warned would cause it to retaliate, but the high tensions prompted the U.N. Security Council to schedule an emergency meeting at Russia’s request.

The one-day firing drills are planned by Tuesday on the same front-line island the North shelled last month as the South’s military conducted similar drills. The shelling killed four people on Yeonpyeong Island near the tense sea border.

The North’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that South Korea would face an unspecified “catastrophe” if the drills take place, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The North also said it would strike harder than before.

South Korea said the drills are routine, defensive in nature and should not be considered threatening. The U.S. supports that and says any country has a right to train for self-defense, but

Russia and China, fellow permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have expressed concern.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry urged South Korea to cancel to avoid escalating tensions.

The Security Council scheduled emergency closed-door consultations on North Korea for 11 a.m. today at Russia’s request, said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. The United States holds the council’s rotating presidency this month.


Plans for Palestinian state by summer moving forward

Palestinian plans to establish a state by summer in agreement with Israel remain on track and they do not intend to seek alternatives such as unilateral recognition from the international community, a top Palestinian official said in a special interview with Israeli TV aired Saturday.

Later Saturday, an Israeli airstrike killed five Gaza militants in the deadliest attack against the coastal strip in months. The Israeli military said the men were about to launch a rocket attack against southern Israeli communities . Palestinian officials confirmed the five dead in central Gaza were militants but had no further details.

The militant group Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while the more moderate Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.

The rare flare-up in violence comes as Israel and the Palestinian Authority are at an impasse in peace talks over a Palestinian demand that Israel freeze Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a future state.

Given the stalemate, some Palestinian officials have been trying to rally international recognition for an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem even without a deal with Israel.

However, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in the interview that this is not his goal.


Bank of America refusing  WikiLeaks transactions

Bank of America Corp. has joined several other financial institutions in refusing to handle payments for WikiLeaks, the latest blow to the secret-releasing organization’s efforts to continue operating under pressure from governments and the corporate world.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank’s move adds to similar actions by Mastercard Inc. and PayPal Inc.

Though previous moves have prompted reprisals by hackers, Bank of America’s site is as well-protected as they come, security experts say.
Its site was problem-free through midafternoon Saturday.

“This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments,” the bank said in a statement Saturday. The move was first reported by The Charlotte Observer.

Earlier this month, Internet “hacktivists” operating under the label “Operation Payback” claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing technical problems at the MasterCard website after it ended its relationship with WikiLeaks. PayPal saw its website subject to an attack that slowed it down but did not significantly affect payments.

Reached by phone, Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri declined further comment Saturday.

WikiLeaks says it’s preparing a release of information on banks, which could include documents it says it has on Bank of America.

WikiLeaks responded to Bank of America’s announcement with a Twitter message urging supporters to stop doing business with the bank.


Winter storms bringing threat of floods, mudslides

A series of winter storms bearing down on California Saturday was threatening parts of the state with flooding, and officials were posting mud-flow warnings in areas recently affected by wildfires ahead of this weekend’s rains.

Southern California will be hit especially hard by the storms, and officials were preparing for possible mudslides in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“This is one big mother, and it’s going to have a lot of waves in it,” National Weather Service spokesman Bill Hoffer said.

The storms could be the largest system the region has seen in the last decade, the agency said Saturday.

Northern California was expecting 5 inches of rain in places over the weekend, and officials in San Francisco were distributing sandbags to residents.

Southern California could see 2 to 4 inches along the coasts and valleys with triple that in the mountains.

The Central Valley will likely get 1 to 3 inches of rain by Monday with up to 15 inches of rain in the Sierra Nevada mountains , National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Dudley said Friday.

The wet conditions were expected to last through Thursday morning.