- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2007

IRAQ

Iran officials visit five held by U.S.

BAGHDAD — Iranian diplomats made the first consular visit yesterday to five Iranians detained in Iraq by U.S. forces in January, and Tehran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Hassan Kazemi-Qomi described the meeting as a step forward.

The U.S. military says the five are linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and were backing militants in Iraq. Iran has insisted they are diplomats, demanded they be freed and sought access to the men.

Relations were strained again last week when a senior U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad accused Iranian agents of helping to plot a brazen raid that killed five American soldiers in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala in January.

PAKISTAN

Musharraf urges militants to surrender

ISLAMABAD — The militant followers of an Islamic cleric barricaded inside a besieged mosque must surrender or face death, President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday in his first comments on the six-day standoff.

The thousands of soldiers ringing the mosque in the heart of the capital again held back from an all-out assault, and Gen. Musharraf said the government hoped to ensure the safety of women and children inside.

The cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a former civil servant whose students have sought to impose Taliban-style rule in the city, says he and his followers prefer martyrdom to the unconditional surrender demanded by the government.

NEPAL

Protests greet king on 60th birthday

KATMANDU — Nepal’s king celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday with a lavish ceremony at his palace that set off protests in the streets of Katmandu.

Calling the king a criminal, some 10,000 demonstrators demanded the abolition of the monarchy at a demonstration organized by youth and student groups affiliated with major political parties.

King Gyanendra angered many Nepalese when he seized absolute power in February 2005 and fired an interim government. He was forced to give up his authoritarian rule in April 2006 following months of pro-democracy protests and he remains deeply unpopular.

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