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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.
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.
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.
Militants condemn girl’s abduction
ABUJA — The main militant group in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta has condemned the abduction for ransom of a 3-year-old British girl and said it should not be confused with the political struggle in the region.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, which is fighting for local control of oil revenues by blowing up oil installations and occasionally seizing adult hostages, said it was taking part in the search for the kidnapped toddler.
Margaret Hill, who has a British father and a Nigerian mother, was snatched Thursday morning from a car on her way to school in the oil city of Port Harcourt.
Kidnapped journalist home from Gaza
LOCHGOILHEAD, Scotland — Alan Johnston, the British Broadcasting Corp. journalist who was freed early last week after 114 days in captivity in the Gaza Strip, returned home yesterday to an emotional reunion with his family.
The 45-year-old reporter arrived at his parents’ home in western Scotland in the evening after earlier flying into London’s Heathrow Airport from Tel Aviv.
Mr. Johnston, who was the only Western journalist still based permanently in Gaza, was taken captive by the Palestinian group Army of Islam on March 12.
From wire dispatches and staff reports
By Brahma Chellaney
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