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China Commissions First Aircraft Carrier

China's first aircraft carrier officially entered service Tuesday, amid a worsening territorial dispute with Japan and regional concerns over Beijing's rapidly modernizing navy.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Soviet-built aircraft carrier, named Liaoning after China's northeast province, is an important step in "raising the overall fighting capacity" of its naval forces.

The 300-meter ship, purchased from Ukraine in 1998, was delivered and commissioned to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) at a ceremony in the port city of Dalian, where the vessel was refitted.

North Korea Halts Work on Launch Pad

A U.S.-based research institute says new satellite imagery suggests North Korea has halted construction on a launch pad capable of testing intercontinental missiles.

The website 38 North says the delay, possibly due to recent heavy rains, could push back the project's completion by up to two years.

The new launch pad, located at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground, had been scheduled for completion around 2015.

Presidents of Sudan, South Sudan Continue Negotiations

The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan are meeting for a second day as they try to resolve issues left from the two countries' split last year.

Presidents Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan are meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, along with African Union mediators.

The AU team has presented ideas for settling the dispute over the oil-producing Abyei region. The proposal, calls for a so-called "soft border" that would allow free movement of people, livestock and goods into both Sudan and South Sudan from Abyei.

S.Korea Fires Warning Shots at N.Korean Fishing Boats

South Korea says it has fired warning shots toward six North Korean fishing boats that crossed the disputed Yellow Sea border between the two countries.

Seoul's defense ministry, which confirmed the incident, says two South Korean navy patrol ships fired multiple rounds near the North Korean boats. Officials say none of the shots hit the fishing boats, which quickly returned to their side of the de facto western sea border.

Russian Democracy Groups Face Tough Times After USAID Ouster

Russia has given the United States Agency for International Development until October 1, 2012 to close its operations and leave the country. Human rights groups in Russia say the Kremlin order will hurt their work.

The expulsion order comes with an accusation from the Kremlin that USAID has been trying to influence Russian politics.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says it had been concerned that USAID has been working to influence various elections, in addition to funding civil society institutions.

Syrian Rebels Seize Northern Border Crossing

Syrian rebels have seized control of a third border crossing with Turkey after fierce battles with government troops, as fighting raged in the key cities of Aleppo and Damascus.

VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott reported from the Syrian capital Wednesday that thick, black smoke was rising from contested suburbs there.

At the Tal Abyad crossing near Turkey, rebels tore down the Syrian flag as Turkish authorities quickly closed the area and prevented a crowd of people from attempting to storm the border and cross into Syria.

Algeria's Stance on Northern Mali Remains Ambiguous

Algeria is a key military power in the Sahel region and could play a decisive role in the outcome of the crisis in Mali, where al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants control the northern half of the country. Questions remain as to what exactly is Algeria's position in this crisis.

Mali has officially requested military assistance from West African regional bloc ECOWAS to help retake the country’s north, which fell to heavily-armed militant groups in April, shortly after a March 22 military coup in the capital, Bamako.

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi to Get US Congress' Highest Honor

Nobel Prize-winning Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday begins a two-week tour of the United States, where she is to receive Congress' highest honor.

Aung San Suu Kyi will spend the first four days of her visit in Washington - meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

She also is expected to meet with President Barack Obama and make appearances at the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Japan: Chinese Patrol Ships Leave Disputed Waters

All six Chinese surveillance ships have left Japanese-controlled waters after briefly conducting a patrol mission near a group of disputed islands.

Japan's Coast Guard say the ships left the area surrounding the uninhabited archipelago Friday after both sides exchanged warnings in the contested waters.

Japan had organized an emergency task force and summoned the Chinese ambassador in response to the move, which it called "regrettable" and "unprecedented."

Syrian Air Defenses Are First Targets if No-Fly Zone Established

Rebels fighting Syrian government forces have been urging the West to establish a no-fly zone over the country, but are getting little international support.

Western defense experts see difficulties in a no-fly mission, including troubles securing the skies over Syria, as Syrian air defenses must first be destroyed.

A no-fly zone is defined as airspace in which certain aircraft, especially military ones - such as warplanes and helicopter gunships - are forbidden to fly.

Spy Arrests Raise Turkish-Iran Tensions

The recent arrest by Turkey's security forces of nine people accused of spying for Iran has increased tensions between the former close allies. Bilateral relations have soured over the two countries' support of opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Kerem Balci, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Zaman, says the arrests may be part of a deeper probe.

China Sends Ships to Stake Claim to Disputed Islands

Tensions between China and Japan continued to rise Tuesday as Tokyo sealed a deal to purchase islands that Chinese authorities say belong to them.

China responded by sending two patrol ships to the hotly contested waters. According state-run Xinhua news agency, the two marine surveillance ships were deployed to assert what it called the country’s undisputed sovereignty in the area.

The islets, known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku, lie near strategic shipping and fishing grounds, as well as potential oil and gas reserves.

Burmese Migrants in Thailand Await Changes Back Home

Millions of Burmese migrant workers have long sought economic opportunity abroad, but their life in exile frequently means working outside the law, in risky or dangerous jobs.

In Thailand there are more than a million registered Burmese migrant workers. The number of unregistered is even greater, and many of them work jobs that Thai laborers are often unwilling to do.

Working without proper documentation can often lead to arrest and deportation. But many, like Ta Jandee, say they prefer that risk to returning to Burma.

IAEA Demands Access to Iranian Military Site

The United Nations nuclear watchdog chief demanded on Monday that Iran give U.N. inspectors "without further delay" access to a disputed military site where they believe Iran ran may have conducted tests tied to the development of nuclear weapons.

Expressing frustration over Iran's lack of cooperation, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his agency needs to assess the "activities" at Iran's Parchin military base.

Will South China Sea Disputes Lead to War?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Beijing to push China toward a diplomatic resolution over territorial disputes it has with its South China Sea neighbors. But China is pushing back.

Concerns over the matter have experts talking about the potential for a military conflict.

“The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant,” said analyst Bonnie S. Glaser in an article written for the Council on Foreign Affairs last April. Since then, the tensions have only grown worse.