World and Nation

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Suspect in Russian’s Poisoning Not Charged

German prosecutors have abandoned investigations into one of the main figures suspected of involvement in the killing of a former KGB officer in London three years ago without bringing charges, according to accounts on Thursday by the prosecutors and the man in question.

Dmitri V. Kovtun, a businessman with his own links to Russian security services, was initially suspected by German prosecutors of illegally transporting a rare radioactive isotope, Polonium 210, through Germany and then to London where investigators say it was used to poison Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former KGB officer and whistleblower who had publicly criticized the Russian president at the time, Vladimir V. Putin.

The killing embroiled most of Europe in a Cold War-style drama, with investigators chasing a trail of radioactive material from a hotel bar in London to Moscow and aboard the passenger airlines that linked those cities.

German investigators had discovered traces of the substance in Hamburg, where Kovtun traveled just days before Nov. 1, 2006, when Litvinenko believed he was poisoned. Litvinenko died 22 days later.

On Thursday, Kovtun said that he had received word from his lawyer that all the charges in Germany were dropped, a decision he said he had expected.

Two Sunken Japanese Subs Are Found Off Hawaii

Researchers on Thursday announced the discovery of two World War II Japanese submarines, including one meant to carry aircraft for attacks on American cities and the Panama Canal, in deep water off Hawaii, where they were sunk 63 years ago.

The submarines, among five that were captured by U.S. forces at the end of the war and brought to Pearl Harbor for study, were found off Oahu at a depth of about 2,600 feet using submersibles from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, which is financed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and located at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The five were towed to sea in 1946 and torpedoed, and the researchers said one probable reason for that was to avoid having to share any of the technology with the Russian military.

One of the Japanese craft, the I-201, was capable of speeds of about 20 knots while submerged, making it among the fastest diesel submarines ever made. Like other Japanese subs, it had a rubberized coating on the hull, an innovation intended to make it less apparent to sonar or radar.

The other, the I-14, was much larger and slower and designed to carry two small planes, Aichi M6A Seirans. The aircraft, which had folding wings and tails and could carry a torpedo or 1,800-pound bomb, were housed in watertight hangars inside the submarine.

Wal-Mart’s Profit Rises, But a Key Indicator Slips

As more consumers flocked to Wal-Mart the last few months for deals on brand-name electronics, the company cut prices drastically to keep up with competitors, undermining its sales.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer and an increasingly important player in electronics retailing, posted strong third-quarter earnings on Thursday. Though the company has gained market share during the recession, sales at stores open at least a year — an important measure of retail health — fell slightly. Wal-Mart attributed the decline to price deflation in groceries and, especially, in electronics.

“Prices have declined dramatically,” said Riddhi Patel, principal analyst with market research firm iSuppli. She added that, industry-wide, prices for LCD televisions fell 23 percent and prices for plasma TVs fell 18 percent from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of this year. Electronics analysts said prices dropped as retailers vied for sales to tight-fisted consumers.

“Wal-Mart and Best Buy are locked in this life-and-death struggle for market share,” said Paul Gagnon, director of North American TV research for DisplaySearch, a research firm. “They’ve both been pretty aggressive in dropping prices.”

And for good reason. Low prices are crucial to winning in this economy, analysts said.

Officials Search for Answers in Widespread Brazil Blackout

The huge power failure involving the world’s largest operating hydroelectric plant this week was the worst in its 25 years of use, Brazilian officials said Wednesday, causing widespread blackouts that exposed the vulnerability of Brazil’s electricity infrastructure.

Officials in Brazil and Paraguay were still searching for answers late Wednesday to explain the failure at the Itaipu plant, which straddles the border between the countries along the Parana River and is a critical source of power for both nations.

For more than two hours late Tuesday, the failure of three transmission lines that deliver power from the plant created a domino effect, cutting off electricity to 18 of 26 states in Brazil, including the country’s two largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Tens of millions of people were affected.

Much of Paraguay, which suffered several brief power failures in the past week, was also blacked out Tuesday night for about 20 minutes.

Electricity system operators said that there was no evidence of sabotage and that the most likely cause was an unexplained atmospheric disturbance, like heavy rains or winds in the area. “The system is not fragile, it is one of the strongest and most secure in the world,” said Edison Lobao, Brazil’s energy minister.

Still, energy experts in both countries said the widespread blackout showed the potential weaknesses in Brazil’s transmission system and the need for better management of the interconnected electrical grids.