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Iraqi PM orders truce in Najaf
Baghdad, August 26

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said today that he had ordered his forces to observe a 24-hour ceasefire in Najaf from 3 pm (1630 IST) to allow talks on a peaceful end to an uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

People walk through the courtyard of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine during a ceasefire on Thursday People walk through the courtyard of Najaf's Imam Ali shrine during a ceasefire on Thursday. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Thursday he had ordered his forces to observe a 24-hour ceasefire in Najaf to allow talks on a peaceful end to an uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. — Reuters photo

Mortar attack on Iraqi mosque, 27 killed
Kufa (Iraq), August 26
A mortar barrage hit the main mosque in the Iraqi city of Kufa today, killing 27 persons and wounding 63 as they prepared to march on the violence-wracked city of Najaf, hospital officials and witnesses said.

Planes crashed due to terror attack: Russian media
Moscow, August 26

Refusing to “buy” the official version that no evidence of terror attack was immediately found in the simultaneous crashes of two planes which killed 89 people, the Russian media has claimed that Chechen suicide bombers were behind the double tragedy in air.

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An ad campaign for Bush turns IOC members red!
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Thirty-five years and 80 million album sales after his 1969 debut, Carlos Santana's music continues to be a defining force for Latin and non-Latin musicians alike
Thirty-five years and 80 million album sales after his 1969 debut, Carlos Santana's music continues to be a defining force for Latin and non-Latin musicians alike. On August 30, Santana will be honored as Person of the Year at the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences tribute. Santana is shown in concert in California on May 17, 2003. — Reuters

EARLIER STORIES

 
Do the Bhuttos own the 4-million-pound Surrey mansion?
Benazir BhuttoSurrounded by 335 acres of prime Surrey countryside, Rockwood House is a mansion that tries so hard to be quintessentially English. It has a replica of the nearby village pub in its basement. The £4m neo-Tudor pile, unkempt after lying empty for at least five years, seems far removed from the intrigues and power struggles of political life 4,000 miles away in Pakistan.

Sudan dismisses UN ultimatum
Abuja, August 26
Sudan will ignore a UN Security Council deadline to end militia attacks in Darfur by the end of the month and instead resolve the crisis through African Union peace talks, Khartoum’s chief negotiator said today.

Thatcher son was on verge of fleeing to US: police
Durban, August 26
Mark Thatcher, multi-millionaire businessman and son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had planned to flee South Africa shortly before he was arrested on the charges of being involved in a coup plot to overthrow the government of the central African country of Equatorial Guinea.


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (right) greets Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, during a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday. Gandhi took his grandfather's doctrine of non-violent resistance to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, pitching the pacifist creed to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his sandbagged, bullet-scarred West Bank headquarters. — AP/PTI

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Iraqi PM orders truce in Najaf

Baghdad, August 26
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said today that he had ordered his forces to observe a 24-hour ceasefire in Najaf from 3 pm (1630 IST) to allow talks on a peaceful end to an uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Mr Allawi said Sadr's representatives had indicated they would accept a peace plan announced by Iraq's foremost Shia religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

He said Sadr's Mehdi Army fighters would be offered an amnesty if they gave up their weapons and agreed to leave peacefully from the Imam Ali shrine, the holiest Shia mosque in Iraq where they were holed up.

"The Iraqi government will provide them with ways to lay down their arms and leave the sacred shrine, and we affirm again that we will provide safe passage to Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr if he chooses to stop the military confrontation," Mr Allawi said.

NAJAF: Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, arrived at the gates of the holy city of Najaf on Thursday in a bid to end weeks of fighting between US forces and Iraqi insurgents here, his aides said.

"We are now in Najaf," said Hamed al-Khafaf, an al-Sistani assistant.

Travelling in an armoured car, al-Sistani left the southern city of Basra in a 30-vehicle convoy of sport utility vehicles earlier.

Al-Sistani, 75, returned to Iraq on Wednesday after spending several weeks in London for medical treatment. — Reuters, AP

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Mortar attack on Iraqi mosque, 27 killed

Kufa (Iraq), August 26
A mortar barrage hit the main mosque in the Iraqi city of Kufa today, killing 27 persons and wounding 63 as they prepared to march on the violence-wracked city of Najaf, hospital officials and witnesses said.

Hours after the attack, unidentified gunmen opened fire on thousands of Shia Muslim marchers heading for Najaf, killing at least one, witnesses said.

Thousands of people were crowded around Kufa's golden-domed mosque at the time and ambulances raced to the scene to take scores of wounded to a nearby hospital. Dead bodies lay around the mosque compound, a stronghold of followers of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, witnesses said.

Hussam al-Husseini, an Al-Sadr aide, said one mortar shell hit the mosque compound itself and two others landed near the mosque gates.

Shrapnel from the explosions tore small chunks out of walls and the pavement, but there appeared to be no serious structural damage to the compound. — AP

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7 hostages to be freed

aghdad, August 26
A militant group holding three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian hostage dropped nearly all its demands and will release the men if their Kuwaiti trucking company agrees to stop working in Iraq, according to a video shown on Al-Arabiya television today. The video showed the seven men sitting on the ground while a voice off-screen read a statement.

The militant’s voice in the video said the group, calling itself “The Holders of the Black Banners,” would drop nearly all its demands in response to an appeal from India’s Ambassador here. — AP

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14 Nepalese held in Iraq

Kathmandu, August 26
Fourteen Nepali citizens who had entered into Iraq illegally, have been arrested by the Iraqi authorities, the foreign ministry said in a statement here today.

The Iraqi embassy in New Delhi, which also looks after Nepal, informed that 14 Nepalese were arrested in Iraq and the ministry is trying to get detail information about them, it said without giving details of the incident. — UNI
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Planes crashed due to terror attack: Russian media

Relatives of a Volga-Aviaexpress Tu-134 plane crash victim leave the local morgue after the identification procedure near the town of Tula some 150 km from Moscow
Relatives of a Volga-Aviaexpress Tu-134 plane crash victim leave the local morgue after the identification procedure near the town of Tula, some 150 km from Moscow, on Thursday.
— Reuters photo

Moscow, August 26
Refusing to “buy” the official version that no evidence of terror attack was immediately found in the simultaneous crashes of two planes which killed 89 people, the Russian media has claimed that Chechen suicide bombers were behind the double tragedy in air.

The authorities are trying to “play down” the possibility of a terror attack in view of the Sunday mid-term Presidential polls in Chechnya, though it is evident that terror attacks of this scale can be organised only by Chechen militants, leading dailies and web-based news portals claimed.

Kommersant and other media noted that Sibir airlines’ Tupolev Tu-154 jet that crashed on Tuesday, 138 km away from Rostov-on-Don, had released a service message received from the military-controlled national air-traffic command centre.

The message read: “24.08.04 in Moscow Zonal Centre and Rostov Zonal Centre simultaneously disappeared pointers (on radar screens) of Tu-154 and Tu-134. On one of the liners hijack alarm was triggered. We request you to heighten vigil in airports during scanning and boarding of passengers.”

Russian media underscored that this service message clearly indicates that from the very beginning authorities were confident that planes had crashed due to terror attack and not as a result of technical failure or human error.

Quoting former pilots and civil aviation experts, the media noted that the debris of the two airliners were strewn over a very large area — in Rostov region over 40 square km. This clearly indicates that the ill-fated airliners had disintegrated at the high altitude. — PTI

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Do the Bhuttos own the 4-million-pound Surrey mansion?
Cahal Milmo

Surrounded by 335 acres of prime Surrey countryside, Rockwood House is a mansion that tries so hard to be quintessentially English. It has a replica of the nearby village pub in its basement.

The £4m neo-Tudor pile, unkempt after lying empty for at least five years, seems far removed from the intrigues and power struggles of political life 4,000 miles away in Pakistan. But after eight years of denial and dogged investigation, the nine-bedroom house has finally been revealed as a key part of a labyrinthine corruption allegation that links the Isle of Man, a stuffed Bengal tiger and Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Ms Bhutto’s government was dismissed in 1996 amid claims that Rockwood House, overlooking the South Downs close to Guildford, had been bought by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, with money made illegally as investment minister during his wife’s premiership.

Mr Zardari, who is in jail in Karachi on corruption charges, has always denied owning the property. Pakistani investigators have failed to link him to the three Isle of Man companies that bought the mansion in 1995. His wife, who lives in exile between London and Dubai after being forced to flee Pakistan in 1999, said her husband had told her on “10 occasions” that he had not bought the house, and she said she had never been to Surrey. She says she and her husband are victims of a political conspiracy.

But this week the saga of what the Pakistani media refers to as the “Surrey Palace” took a surprising turn when a lawyer for Mr Zardari told a court on the Isle of Man that his client was the “beneficial owner” of Rockwood House and intended to retain it.

This could prove problematic, since the mansion was sold last week for £4m by the liquidator realising the assets of the three Isle of Man companies after they left creditors, including the builder who renovated the property, with debts of at least £500,000. The Pakistani government has struck a deal with the liquidator, subject to the approval of an Isle of Man judge, to retain the balance of the proceeds after all creditors have been paid.

Alan Perry, the London-based lawyer retained by the Pakistani government’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to pursue its claim of ownership of Rockwood House and the adjoining properties, including two farms, said yesterday: “These properties were acquired during a period when Ms Bhutto was in office. They have just been sold by the liquidator.

“The government of Pakistan has been saying for years that these properties were acquired with the benefit of corruption, and that the real beneficiaries behind the (Isle of Man) trusts and companies were Ms Bhutto and Mr Zardari.”

The allegations date from the mid-1990s, when Ms Bhutto’s political fortunes reached their zenith. The daughter of Pakistan’s most popular leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was executed by the military, she swept to power in 1988 and 1995, becoming the first female political leader in the Muslim world. On both occasions she was forced to resign. Her supporters say she fell foul of a trenchant, military-backed establishment that could not accept a woman with political power.

The Pakistani government says she and her husband, known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” for the commissions he allegedly took on contracts while industry minister during his wife’s second term, were sacked for “corruption, misrule and nepotism”. The NAB says the couple salted away £ 830 m and have 26 international bank accounts and 14 properties, including the Kensington flat where Ms Bhutto lives while in London.

They say Mr Zardari intended to use Rockwood House as a family home and ordered £ 1.7 m of renovations, including polo pitches, a stud farm, a nine-hole golf course and a helicopter pad. During a visit to the village pub, the Dog and Pheasant, Mr Zardari said he liked the building so much he wanted to buy it. When told it was not for sale, a replica of the bar area was built in the basement of the mansion.

Paul Keating, the builder in charge of the renovation, said Mr Zardari told him the project was “top secret”, and eight crates of arteifacts, including antique rifles and a stuffed Bengal tiger, arrived in spring 1996 from the Bhuttos’ home in Karachi.

Ms Bhutto, 58, has been told by the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf, that she faces imprisonment if she returns to Pakistan. But she and her husband remain defiant. She said she was not named in any Rockwood House proceedings.

Their representatives said Mr Zardari’s claim to ownership was “tactical”. Sources said the move could be a ploy to run up legal costs to wipe out Karachi’s share of the sale proceeds.

— By arrangement with The Independent, London

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Sudan dismisses UN ultimatum

Displaced Sudanese women wait at a food distribution centre in Zam Zam refugee camp in northern Darfur
Displaced Sudanese women wait at a food distribution centre in Zam Zam refugee camp in northern Darfur
on Thursday. Rebels from Sudan's Darfur region on Thursday rejected calls to disarm or confine their fighters to their bases before a political solution to the conflict has been decided and implemented. — Reuters photo

Abuja, August 26
Sudan will ignore a UN Security Council deadline to end militia attacks in Darfur by the end of the month and instead resolve the crisis through African Union peace talks, Khartoum’s chief negotiator said today.

Asked whether Sudan would seek to meet the terms of the United Nations’ ultimatum, which expires on August 30, Agriculture Minister Majzoub al-Khalifa said: “Not at all. It’s never crossed our minds or our hearts.”

“We are working towards our duties to our people. We are a dignified people. It’s not our aim to set dates. What is going to happen is that the deadline will pass and we are going to continue negotiations,” he said.

“I think this thing (the Abuja peace talks) will finish in three or four or five days,” he added.

Last month the United Nations gave Sudan until the end of August to disarm the Janjaweed Arab militia, which has been accused of attacking and massacring civilians during Darfur’s 18-month-old civil war, or face sanctions.

More than 1.2 million people have been driven from their homes during the fighting, and more than 30,000 killed, according to the United Nations. — AFP

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Thatcher son was on verge of fleeing to US: police

Durban, August 26
Mark Thatcher, multi-millionaire businessman and son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had planned to flee South Africa shortly before he was arrested on the charges of being involved in a coup plot to overthrow the government of the central African country of Equatorial Guinea.

Chief spokesperson for the elite 'Scorpions' police unit, Mr Sipho Ngwema, said this today responding to the reports that Mark Thatcher claimed he was innocent of all charges against him.

"Shortly before we swooped on his house in Cape Town on Wednesday morning we knew that he had made plans to flee the country," said Mr Ngwema.

Mr Ngwema said Thatcher had taken several steps that proved that he was "on the verge of fleeing to the United States".

He had sold his four luxury vehicles, put his palatial house on the market for 22-million rand, reserved seats on a flight to the US on Monday this week for his wife and their two children and enrolled the children in American schools. — PTI

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BRIEFLY

Typhoon Aere hits Taiwan, 15 dead
Taipei:
At least 15 persons were feared dead after a mudslide triggered by Typhoon Aere buried a village in northern Taiwan, a local official said today.
A wall of mud enveloped the village of Tochang in Hsinshu County yesterday after the region had been battered by strong winds and torrential rain, destroying over 20 houses, the official said. — AFP

Rapist hanged publicly in Iran
Tehran
:
An Iranian man convicted of raping a number of women and girls has been hanged publicly near Tehran, drawing cheers from some 1,500 spectators, a judiciary official said. The public hanging of the man, only identified as Parviz, was also accompanied by an accomplice being lashed 99 times. — AFP

3 Pak soldiers wounded
Peshawar
:
A land mine exploded near army vehicles carrying troops in a remote northwestern tribal region near Afghanistan today, wounding at least three soldiers, a security official said. — AP
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