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BRITAIN

Official says U.S. ties 'most important'

LONDON — Britain's new Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday insisted on the primacy of Britain's relationship with the United States.

"The U.S. is the single most important bilateral relationship," Mr. Miliband told the think tank Chatham House.

Mr. Miliband's first speech as foreign minister came after recent comments by International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander and junior foreign minister Mark Malloch Brown that suggested the trans-Atlantic relationship had weakened.

ARGENTINA

First lady starts presidential bid

BUENOS AIRES — First lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner started her bid for Argentina's presidency at a rally yesterday, promising to press ahead with the left-leaning reforms of her popular husband.

Mrs. Fernandez, 54, a senator whose presidential bid has drawn comparisons to U.S. candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, told about 2,000 supporters in La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires province, that the country should continue down the path of President Nestor Kirchner.

"Presidential elections can't be a game of Russian roulette" with Argentines not knowing the future and everything changing from one administration to the next, Mrs. Fernandez said.

INDIA

Building crash kills 27 in Bombay

BOMBAY — At least 27 persons were crushed to death and several more trapped when an old building collapsed in India's financial capital, police said yesterday.

The seven-story building in a crowded northern suburb of Bombay collapsed late Wednesday, but rescue workers began pulling out most bodies only early yesterday. About 15 persons were removed alive, several with serious injuries. Police said 25 to 40 people still could be trapped.

Civic authorities blamed faulty repair work being carried out in the building for the accident.

SOMALIA

Mortars kill children near peace talks

MOGADISHU — Suspected Islamist insurgents targeted a major reconciliation meeting in Somalia with mortar bombs yesterday, missing the venue but killing at least five children playing nearby and an elderly man, residents said.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi told delegates gathered at a former police compound in northern Mogadishu that Somalia must redress its reputation as a terrorist haven.

FRANCE

Chirac questioned in party scheme

PARIS — A judge questioned former President Jacques Chirac for more than four hours yesterday in an investigation into a party financing scandal that dates back to his time as mayor of Paris his attorney said.

It was the first time a former French president has undergone questioning under such conditions and marks a sobering point in Mr. Chirac's four-decade political career.

The investigation concerns a fake jobs scheme used to finance Mr. Chirac's conservative party Rally for the Republic, while he was mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.

SIERRA LEONE

War crimes court sentences 3 rebels

FREETOWN — A U.N.-backed court sentenced three former rebel leaders to prison yesterday, the first punishments handed down by the war crimes tribunal since it was set up five years ago.

Alex Tamba Brima, 35, and Santigie Borbor Kanu, 42, were each given 50-year jail terms, while Brima Bazzy Kamara, 39, received 45 years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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