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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Briefly

April 6, 2005

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Iraq

Lawmakers finish up agreement on president

Ousted dictator Saddam Hussein will watch from his Baghdad jail cell as Iraq's newly elected parliament chooses a new president Wednesday, the next step in building Iraq's first democratically elected government in 50 years, Iraqi officials said.

Lawmakers put the finishing touches Tuesday on an agreement making Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani president and Shiite Adel Abdul-Mahdi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, his two vice presidents.

On Thursday, the 275 lawmakers elected Jan. 30 likely will name Shiite leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari prime minister, clearing the way for lawmakers to begin focusing their attention on writing a permanent constitution by their Aug. 15 deadline.

Saudi Arabia

Security forces storm compound, end standoff

Security forces stormed a walled compound Tuesday where Islamic militants had been barricaded for days, ending the kingdom's largest gunbattle yet and killing 14 armed extremists, including top leaders in the Saudi branch of al-Qaida.

At least six others were captured during three days of heavy firefights in the desert town of Rass, state-run television said, reporting the death toll and citing security officials after the battle was over. Fourteen members of the security forces were wounded.

The size and ferocity of the battle in Rass, 220 miles northwest of Riyadh, suggested the security forces had uncovered a major cell of the al-Qaida-linked militant networks that the kingdom has battled in a crackdown launched in 2003 following a string of deadly suicide bombings.

For nearly 48 hours, up to 10 gunmen who survived initial fighting Sunday were holed up in the villa compound with a large arsenal of weapons. Surrounded by hundreds of Saudi special forces, they fired heavy volleys of automatic weapons fire and grenades.

Washington

Attorney general urges renewal of Patriot Act

The Bush administration has used the Patriot Act's powers to listen to cell phone conversations and examine business records 84 times in 3 1/2 years, Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday as Congress began considering whether to renew those powers and other sections of the anti-terror law.

Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller urged lawmakers to make permanent all 15 expiring provisions of the law, some of which have aroused civil liberties concerns. Mueller also asked lawmakers to expand the bureau's ability to obtain records in terrorism cases without first asking a judge or grand jury.

"Al-Qaida and other groups remain a grave threat to our country, and now is not the time for us to relinquish our tools in that fight," Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several lawmakers are introducing legislation today to curb major parts of the Patriot Act.

London

Blair calls national election on May 5

Prime Minister Tony Blair asked for a third term Tuesday, calling a national election for May 5 that he is expected to win despite the unpopular Iraq war, continued public grumbling about public services and an apparent drop in his opinion poll lead.

"It's a big choice and there's a lot at stake," Blair said after Queen Elizabeth II granted his request to dissolve Parliament. "The British people are the boss and they are the ones who will make it."

Blair is seeking a third term in office -- his last, he has said -- after eight years in power, commanding a huge majority in the House of Commons.

Opinion polls published Tuesday showed Blair's Labour Party running anywhere from 2 points to 5 points ahead of the opposition Conservatives -- more or less a statistical dead heat.

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