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Archive for Thursday, June 2, 2005

Briefly

June 2, 2005

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Afghanistan

Al-Qaida suspect kills 20 in mosque bombing

A suicide bomber suspected of ties with al-Qaida walked into a mosque during the funeral of a Muslim cleric and blew himself up Wednesday, killing 20 people, including Kabul's police chief, and wounding 42 others.

The attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan since a surge in violence began in March, casting doubt on U.S. claims that it is stabilizing the country and reinforcing fears that militants here are copying the tactics of those in Iraq.

Hundreds of mourners were crowded inside the mosque for the funeral of Mullah Abdul Fayaz in the main southern city of Kandahar when the bomber struck.

Above, an unidentified bombing victim rests in a hospital in Kandahar.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the assault as an "act of cowardice by the enemies of Islam and the enemies of the peace of Afghan people" and ordered a high-level investigation.

Peru

Doctors separate fused legs of 'Miracle' baby

Doctors successfully separated the fused legs of a Peruvian baby during a risky, nationally televised operation Wednesday, and they said they hoped the vivacious, bright-eyed girl would be walking in two years.

But they cautioned that 13-month-old Milagros Cerron, who was born with a rare congenital defect known as sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome," would need years of reconstructive surgery before she is fully healed.

The successful 4 1/2-hour operation was fitting for a baby whose name Milagros means "miracles" in Spanish.

Milagros, affectionately called "the little mermaid" by Peruvians, was born with her legs fused together from her thighs to her ankles. The photo above shows her bandaged legs after her operation.

North Korea

U.N.: Nation sending millions to do farmwork

North Korea is sending millions of people from its cities to work on farms each weekend - another indication that the risk of famine is particularly high this year, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

The World Food Program is the only aid organization that has a presence outside the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and its officials have reported the movements of the North's people from cities to farms, said Anthea Webb, spokeswoman for the Rome-based agency.

"It's not a new phenomenon, but it certainly caught our folks' attention in terms of the size and the scale," she said.

The isolated North has depended on outside support to feed its 24 million people since the 1990s. An estimated 1 million North Koreans starved to death after the Stalinist regime's state farm system collapsed following decades of mismanagement and the loss of subsidies from Moscow.

Jerusalem

Abbas, Sharon to meet

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will have a long-delayed, one-on-one meeting June 21, the two sides announced Wednesday.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have not met since a Feb. 8 summit in Egypt, where they declared a cease-fire that has sharply reduced the level of violence.

That landmark meeting, held under the auspices of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, raised hopes that the Israelis and Palestinians would soon embark on negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace accord.

The announcement of the planned Sharon-Abbas meeting came on the eve of Israel's expected release of 400 Palestinian prisoners, as promised at the February summit. However, Palestinians have complained that the gesture is insufficient, saying more of the 8,000 prisoners in Israeli jails should be freed.

United Nations

Annan fires staffer in oil-for-food probe

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan fired a staffer for manipulating contracts under the Iraq oil-for-food program, the first dismissal to result from a U.N.-backed probe of the $64 billion humanitarian operation, a spokesman announced Wednesday.

Joseph Stephanides, a Cypriot diplomat and longtime U.N. staffer, was dismissed over accusations that he tainted the competitive bidding process for a company to inspect humanitarian goods entering Iraq under oil-for-food.

"Mr. Stephanides was advised accordingly yesterday and was separated from service with immediate effect," U.N. associate spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Reached by The Associated Press after the announcement was made, Stephanides rejected the charges and vowed to appeal. Stephanides, who had planned to retire in September when he turns 60, has two months to appeal.

"I am very disappointed by this decision," Stephanides told the AP.

Iraq

Mortar blast kills three children, uncle

A mortar barrage killed three Iraqi children and their uncle as they played together outside their Baghdad home, the latest deaths in an insurgency that claimed a total of six lives Wednesday and showed no signs of slowing down.

Twelve-year-old Sabaa Haitham, her brother Sajjad, 10, and their 8-year-old cousin Mina Mohammed Abid died when one of two mortar rounds slammed into their home in the southern Doura neighborhood, Yarmouk hospital morgue official Razzak Hassan said.

The children's uncle, Lu'ay Salih, in his mid-20s, also was killed in the 6 p.m. explosions that peppered their victims with razor sharp pieces of shrapnel.

"What have those kids done to deserve this? They were just playing in the front yard," said grieving Haitham Salih, father of Sabaa and Sajjad, outside his house. "It's a disaster."

Washington, D.C.

U.S. airmen killed were special-ops commandos

The four U.S. airmen who perished Monday in the crash of an Iraqi aircraft were commandos from special operations units based in Florida, the Pentagon disclosed on Wednesday.

Their deaths brought to 20 the number of Air Force members who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. Nine of the 20 were killed in action; the other 11 were classified as "nonhostile" deaths.

Although the Pentagon has announced no cause for Monday's crash, the Air Force has classified the four deaths as nonhostile.

Killed in the Iraqi aircraft crash were Maj. William Downs, 40, of Winchester, Va.; Capt. Jeremy Fresques, 26, of Clarkdale, Ariz.; Capt. Derek Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif.; and Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, 26, of Spanaway, Wash.

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