Must-Reads from Around the World

North Korea conducts its third nuclear test, Venezuela cuts the price of its national currency and planned peace talks in Afghanistan are in danger of collapse

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Toru Hanai / REUTERS

Japan Meteorological Agency shows ground-motion waveform from North Korea on Feb. 12, 2013

Nuclear North Korea – The New York Times reports that North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, which was later confirmed by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency. The test was carried out as part of defensive counteractions for the country against the “ferocious hostile act of the U.S.” who, according to a statement from the KCNA news service, violated North Korea’s right to launch a satellite for “peaceful purposes.”  Several world leaders have condemned the nuclear tests, which caused, according to U.S. monitoring agency, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake, notes the Associated Press. President Barack Obama called the nuclear test a “highly provocative act,” reports Reuters.

Currency Cuts – The Venezuelan government slashed the price of its national currency – the bolivar – by 32% on Feb. 8, the Economist notes.  It is the seventh devaluation since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, and is “the most striking statistical indicator of Chávez’s economic mismanagement,” said the Economist. Although the official rate of the bolivar weakened from 4.3 bolivares to the dollar to 6.3, according to the weekly newspaper, the new rate is still about three times stronger than the value of the currency on the black market.

Kenya Debates – Kenya’s presidential candidates faced off in the country’s first public forum in its nearly 50 years as an independent nation, the New York Times points out.  Kenyan politics have been shrouded by corruption, impunity and bitter ethnic rivalries, which often led to widespread violence during contested elections, according to the daily. The debate, which was held in Nairobi and moderated by Kenyan journalists, showed candidates’ condemning ethnic politics. Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, said, “ethnicity is a disease of the elite.”

China Trade — China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s biggest trading nation in goods, reports the Guardian. According to China’s customs administration, the country’s combined total for imports and exports in Chinese goods reached $3.87 trillion in 2012 — surpassing the $3.82 trillion trade in goods registered by the U.S. commerce department. The U.S. economy, valued at $15 trillion, is still worth more than double that of China, writes the Guardian, noting that the latest figures show the extent of China’s dependence on the rest of the world to generate jobs and income. But despite the U.S. having a large internal market for goods, and dominating the trade in services, its hefty deficit in the trade of goods ($700 billion in 2012) is much greater than China’s, and is predicted to get larger, reports the daily.

Hacking Claims — Burma’s government has denied that it was responsible for alleged attempts to hack into the Gmail accounts of local and foreign journalists, reports the AP. At least 12 reporters received messages from Google last week informing them of a possible security breach, leading journalists to question whether Burma’s emerging press freedoms are genuine, writes the AP. The Gmail warnings have led to speculation that the hacking attempt could be related to recent coverage — which the government claims is one-sided — of the ongoing conflict between the government and ethnic rebels in northern Kachin state. But the government, which, according to the Guardian, recently announced new regulations which will allow foreign reporters to work for up to a year in Burma on short and long-term journalist visas, has also apparently fallen victim to the attacks, with the nation’s deputy information minister claiming that his Gmail account was also hacked.

Afghan Talks? — Planned Afghanistan peace talks are in danger of collapse after leading Pakistani clerics stated they were unwilling to take part unless the Taliban was also present, reports the Independent. The Pakistani clerics, or Ulema, also view the talks — announced by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this month — as an attempt by the three nations to endorse the Karzai government, reports the daily. Afghanistan has sent an emergency delegation to Islamabad in an attempt to persuade the Ulema to attend the conference, which is due to take place in Kabul next month, writes the Independent. Although the Taliban have previously expressed an interest in peace negotiations, it is unlikely that they could openly attend a conference in Afghanistan any time soon, and they have spoken out against the idea of this particular conference, notes the daily.