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Archive for Saturday, January 24, 2004

Briefly

January 24, 2004

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India

Groom among 45 dead in marriage hall fire

Panicked guests tried to fight their way through flames and stampeded down a narrow hallway after fire struck a makeshift wedding hall Friday in southern India, killing 45 people -- including the groom.

The bride, one of about 60 people injured, was hospitalized in serious condition.

The early-morning fire occurred in Srirangam, a famous Hindu temple town 200 miles south of Madras, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state.

Police speculated that an electrical fault ignited the thatch roof of a pavilion set up for the party on the terrace of a one-story building. The fire spread quickly.

Kuwait

Japanese air force staff arrive for Iraq mission

Standing in heavy rain, more than 100 Japanese servicemen got their first look Friday at the Kuwaiti air base where they will be running supply and humanitarian missions into Iraq -- Japan's first mission in a combat zone since World War II.

The pilots, maintenance personnel and administrative staff are part of 1,000 troops that Japan has committed to sending to Iraq, a deployment that has faced widespread opposition at home.

"I am very confident with our mission," said Maj. Taro Ohmori, 36, from Hiroshima. It is "very important for the Japanese and Iraqi people ... We'll do our best."

Lebanon

Storms pound Mideast

Heavy rains swept across parts of the Middle East on Friday, flooding roads, downing power lines and forcing airports to close.

But in Egypt, Jordan and Israel it was dust storms that raised havoc, forcing airports to close and sending dozens of people to hospitals with breathing problems.

Heavy rains flooded streets in Beirut and caused power failures in many parts of the country.

In the southern port of Sidon, rain storms forced the closure of the city's harbor and cut off electricity supplies and high waves broke over the beach wall.

LONDON

Britain nears decision on plane contract

The British government said Friday it was close to making a decision on a $24 billion military plane contract.

Defense Minister Lord Bach refused to comment on press reports that the contract for the refueling tankers would go to European consortium EADS rather than to a group involving U.S.-based Boeing Corp. and Britain's BAE Systems.

EADS, parent company of jet-maker Airbus Industrie, is seeking to boost its share of the defense aircraft industry, traditionally dominated by Boeing.

The Boeing planes would be built in Washington state but modified into tankers at the company's Wichita, Kan., facility.

Switzerland

Microsoft announces partnership with U.N.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced a partnership Friday with the United Nations to bring computer technology and literacy to developing countries.

Drawing on a $1 billion Microsoft fund, the U.S. software giant will work with the U.N. Development Program to provide software, computer training and cash to establish computer centers in poor communities, starting with pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco.

At a news conference at the World Economic Forum, Gates said the centers would not have to use only Microsoft products.

Turkey

Leaders call for starting talks to reunite Cyprus

Turkey's top civilian and military leaders called Friday for new negotiations to reunite the divided island of Cyprus loosely based on a plan proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United States welcomed the move, which comes amid increasing pressure on Turkey and Turkish Cypriots to find a solution to the island's division.

Cyprus is scheduled to join the European Union in May, and EU leaders have said that failure to reunify the island before that date could jeopardize Turkey's own chances of EU membership.

Austria

U.N. inspectors in Libya take weapons drawings

Libya gave U.N. inspectors drawings of a nuclear weapon, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday, the clearest sign yet that Libya was at some point serious about building such arms.

"We have put those drawings under our seal, and they are secure," Mark Gwozdecky, chief spokesman for the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said.

A diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was "the first time anyone has acknowledged" that Libya entertained intentions of building such a weapon.

Pakistan

3 sentenced to death in attack on church

A Pakistani court has sentenced three Islamic militants to death for killing four women as they prayed at a church near the capital last year, a police official said Friday.

The three men were captured shortly after the Aug. 9 attack on the grounds of a Presbyterian hospital in Taxila, a small town about 25 miles northwest of Islamabad. They were convicted and sentenced Thursday.

The women were all nurses at an adjacent hospital. They died as attackers hurled grenades at worshippers leaving the church. One assailant also died in the assault.

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