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Hundreds feared dead in Bangladesh ferry disaster
The exact number of passengers who boarded the ferry is not known. Ferries in Bangladesh do not carry passenger lists, and many people buy tickets after boarding


About 400 people were feared drowned in Bangladesh when an overcrowded ferry sank after being sucked into a whirlpool in a rain-swollen river, officials said.

The double-decker Nasreen was on its way from Dhaka to the southern town of Barisal when it nose-dived into the Meghna river at Chandpur, 170 km (106 miles) southeast of the capital, just before midnight on Tuesday.

There was no official word on how many people were on board, but police quoted survivors as saying the ferry was carrying at least 600 passengers, double the licensed capacity, plus cargo it was not permitted to carry. Only 200 survived, they said.

One man said he was traveling on the roof of the vessel and dived off when it began to sink.

"The ferry turned aside suddenly. Within moments it started nose-diving and I jumped into the river," said Samir Chandra Adhikari. He said he had to swim more than 100 meters to the river bank.

Baktiar Alam, police superintendent of Chandpur district, told Reuters by telephone the ferry sank at 11 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Tuesday with more than 600 people on board. According to survivors, only 200 swam to safety or were rescued while the rest sank with the ferry, he added.

Among the survivors was 18-month-old Tania. Her parents were missing, feared drowned.

"It's a miracle, no one knows how she survived," local journalist Shakawat Hossain said.

But about 90 students of an Islamic religious school were among those feared drowned, a surviving fellow student said.

"We were travelling to Lal Mohan on a picnic trip as our madrassa (school) was closed for a summer vacation," Mohammad Abbas said.

By midday on Wednesday, three bodies had been recovered from the river and one of the survivors had died in hospital, police said. At least 19 people were being treated for injuries.

Strong currents
Bangladesh navy personnel arrived to help search for the sunken ferry, but strong currents thwarted attempts to anchor their ship.

Officials said the river was about 200 feet (60 meters) deep at the accident site. With strong and unpredictable currents, finding bodies or remnants of the ferry could take days.

Officials said the spot where the ferry sank was notorious for accidents.

It marks the confluence of three rivers -- the Meghna, the Padma and the Dakatia -- and the converging currents create a whirlpool effect, especially when the waters are high.

Rivers in the low-lying nation have swollen in recent weeks with the onset of the annual monsoon. Overflowing rivers and landslides caused by this year's monsoon have already killed 60 people in Bangladesh and another 60 in neigboring India.

At least 450 people were killed in a similar ferry accident in May last year at almost the same spot, officials said.

"The location is very dangerous, attempts to retrieve sunken ferries have failed in the past," Shipping Minister Akbar Hossain told reporters.

He said the ferry was carrying around 600 people, dismissing some suggestions that up to 1,000 may have been on board.

The Nasreen was nevertheless carrying vastly more people than it was licensed to, a Shipping Ministry official said.

"Passengers swarmed the ferry as another scheduled on the route canceled its itinerary without issuing prior notice," the official said.

"In this case also, rules were grossly violated," he added, requesting not to be identified.

Ferries are a common means of transport in impoverished Bangladesh, which lies in a delta criss-crossed by scores of rivers and tributaries flowing into the Bay of Bengal.

Tuesday's accident was the latest in a series of ferry disasters that plague the nation with tragic frequency.

Officials blame the disasters on neglect of safety regulations, structural faults, lax law enforcement and poor weather monitoring. Experts have said that, out of 20,000 ferries in the country, only 8,000 were registered and 800 had fitness certificates.

Dhaka - Reuters


Seoul says North Korea reprocessed nuclear rods
North Korea has used harsh rhetoric for decades, and US and South Korean officials believe it's a tactic designed to escalate tension and pressure negotiating partners into making concessions


North Korea recently reprocessed a small number of its estimated 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and has also tested devices used to trigger atomic explosions, South Korea's intelligence agency said on Wednesday.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) statement to Parliament on recent North Korean nuclear activity follows similar reports in U.S. newspapers and comes as Seoul and its allies are trying to draw Pyongyang into talks.

The NIS reported to the National Assembly Intelligence Committee that Seoul "estimates North Korea has recently reprocessed a small number of the 8,000 fuel rods it was keeping at Yongbyon," a spokesman for the agency told Reuters.

Yongbyon, the base of North Korea's nuclear program, is a city 75 km (47 miles) north of the capital, Pyongyang.

The 8,000 spent fuel rods were part of a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program that was frozen under a 1994 nuclear agreement between North Korea and the United States. The pact unravelled earlier this year after U.S. revelations of a covert North Korean scheme to enrich uranium for bombmaking.

The NIS told Parliament that Seoul had also confirmed North Korea had at least 70 times tested devices that could be used to trigger nuclear explosions at Yongduk-dong, some 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Yongbyon.

Black war clouds
China, an old ally of North Korea which is hosting South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun this week, said the intelligence report had yet to be confirmed, but that Beijing was against any testing of nuclear weapons in the region.

"China is opposed to the testing of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. This stance has not changed," a Foreign Ministry official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Earlier, a North Korean cabinet-level delegation which flew into Seoul on Wednesday for economic talks issued a dire warning. "It is a grim reality that the black clouds of nuclear war are gathering on the Korean Peninsula minute by minute," said the arrival statement released by the North Koreans.

On July 1, the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials believed North Korea was developing technology that could make nuclear warheads small enough to be carried by its missiles.

Officials who had seen the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reports told the newspaper that American satellites had identified an advanced nuclear testing site. The New York Times identified the site as Youngdoktong, but Seoul officials said the location was Yongduk-dong.

Equipment at the site has been set up to test explosives that could set off compact nuclear explosions when detonated, the New York Times said.

The information had been shared with Japan, South Korea and other allies in recent weeks, the newspaper said. NIS chief Ko Young-koo visited Washington last month.

Intelligence officials cited by the newspaper believed the testing facility suggests that North Korea wants to make sophisticated weapons that would be light enough to attach to its growing arsenal of medium- and long-range missiles.

Before Wednesday's NIS hearing, top South Korean officials including Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan had said the explosives tests reported by the New York Times were not news and were widely known among Seoul and its allies.

Seoul - Reuters


Israel kills Palestinian; Egypt tries to save truce
Bush's envoy overseeing steps on the 'road map,' is pressing Israeli government to speed up prisoner releases to help Abbas see off hard-line foes. The US-backed 'road map' plan is troubled both by militant threats to abandon the truce and high-level discontent within Palestinians' mainstream Fatah faction


Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man in a West Bank raid on Wednesday and Egyptian envoys began talks with Palestinian militant leaders to bolster a cease-fire critical to a new peace process with Israel.

The U.S.-backed "road map" plan is troubled both by militant threats to abandon the truce and high-level discontent within the Palestinians' mainstream Fatah faction over moderate Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's performance in peace talks.

Military sources said the Palestinian was killed after he opened fire on soldiers arresting a wanted man in an area of the northern West Bank from which Islamist militants sent a suicide bomber into Israel on Monday, violating the 10-day-old truce.

Senior security officials from Egypt, which helped broker the truce, met Palestinian faction chiefs in Gaza on how to preserve the pact amid warnings from militants that it would collapse unless Israel frees thousands of prisoners.

"The Egyptians are here to calm things down and help the truce endure," said a Palestinian official after the delegation began a meeting with Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

The head of the leading Palestinian militant group Hamas on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to a cease-fire with Israel despite violations by some local cells but warned "our patience has its limits."

Yassin said after talks with Egyptian envoys trying to shore up the truce that Israel's unwillingness to free thousands of Palestinian prisoners could undermine the deal, key to a new U.S.-backed peace plan.

"Israeli practices (including) the issue of the prisoners, are a red line that can never be bypassed in any way or form," Yassin told reporters in Gaza.

Palestinian security sources said Israeli forces entered the village of Burqin close to Jenin before dawn, burst into a Palestinian home and arrested a 22-year-old militant.

The sources said that moments later soldiers fired at the neighboring home of the militant's 27-year-old brother, who they said was killed while looking out a window. They also said the man's wife was shot in the head and seriously wounded.

About 2,000 demonstrators marched through Jenin afterward holding up photographs of relatives arrested by Israeli troops in raids. "No truce without the release of all prisoners in Israeli jails, without exception!" they chanted.

U.S. President George W. Bush unfurled the "road map" at a peace summit on June 4 and Palestinian faction leaders declared a truce, but some local militant cells refuse to abide by it.

Monday's suicide attack, in which an Israeli woman was killed in her home, was the first since the truce was announced.

Prisoner issue threatens Abbas
Internal Fatah opposition confronting Abbas arose largely from his inability to persuade Israel to free up to 8,000 prisoners. It has agreed to release a few hundred but Abbas needs many more out to reduce the popular appeal of militants loath to abandon an uprising against Israel begun in 2000.

Weighing in to shore up the moderate Palestinian premier, the United States planned to provide direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority -- in a break from longstanding U.S. policy, U.S. administration and congressional sources said.

"(Bush) is confident in his leadership and looks forward to continuing to work with him," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said during a South Africa visit by the president.

A senior administration official played down Abbas's threat as part of "internal Palestinian machinations," saying it was "sometimes their way of doing business."

Israeli media said John Wolf, Bush's envoy overseeing steps on the "road map," was pressing the Israeli government to speed up prisoner releases to help Abbas see off hard-line foes.

Israeli officials dismissed the reports and sharpened calls on Abbas to dismantle militant Palestinian groups, as mandated by the "road map" peace plan envisaging a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 2005.

Abbas has shied from such a crackdown, fearing civil war.

Israel has said members of militant groups and prisoners who committed or orchestrated attacks on Israelis would not go free.

Abbas submitted his resignation from Fatah's Central Committee in the wake of demands that he quit as premier.

In a letter to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Abbas asked the longtime Fatah leader to outline how to proceed with confidence-building steps charted by the "road map."

"If (Abbas) rejects their ideas, he will resign as prime minister," a senior official said.

Jenin, West Bank - Reuters


Anglicans to meet amid gay storm
Officially, sexual ethics are not up for discussion at the Synod, which opens on Friday and runs until Tuesday, but the issue is bound to be a hot topic


The Church of England will hold one of its biggest meetings of the year this week amid a row over homosexuality which could tear the Anglican world apart.

Bishops, clergy and lay members of the 470-year-old church will gather in the historic English city of York for a General Synod -- effectively a meeting of the church's parliament.

It will be the first synod presided over by Rowan Williams since he was enthroned in February as Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans. It will also be the first since a row over homosexuality in the church erupted in Canada, the United States and Britain and spread throughout the world from Australia to Africa.

In May, officials in the Canadian diocese of New Westminster broke ranks with church policy by sanctioning same-sex unions to the dismay of Williams, who said the move would create "inevitable tension and division."

Within days, Episcopalians (U.S. Anglicans) in New Hampshire had elected their church's first openly gay bishop -- father of two Gene Robinson, who split from his wife to join his gay partner after acknowledging his homosexuality.

The stormclouds have since rolled across the Atlantic to Britain, where the Church of England announced the appointment of an openly gay clergyman, Jeffrey John, as assistant Bishop of Reading in the diocese of Oxford.

John said last Sunday he would not be taking up the post for fear of damaging the unity of the church.

But increasing openness towards gay clergy in the U.S. and Britain has triggered outrage among Anglicans elsewhere -- most notably in Nigeria, which boasts the world's largest Anglican congregation of some 17 million members.

It has severed ties with New Westminster and New Hampshire, described the U.S. appointment as a "Satanic attack on God's church" and hinted it might break from the Anglican communion if the trend towards acceptance of homosexuality continues.

Officially, sexual ethics are not up for discussion at the Synod, which opens on Friday and runs until Tuesday, but the issue is bound to be a hot topic.

"The evangelicals are going to try to raise it," said religious journalist and commentator Clifford Longley. "But it won't come to a sharp vote on the issue. It will come to a debate on the floor."

The Synod is due to debate the professional conduct of the clergy on Friday and state its views on embryo research on Sunday. Williams is to give his keynote address on Monday.

The Church of England holds two General Synods a year -- the first in York in July and the second in London in November.

London - Reuters


IAEA chief urges Iran to improve transparency
Sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is conscious that failure to address concerns about its nuclear ambitions could increase pressure from Washington and jeopardize relations with other countries


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iran on Wednesday to improve international confidence in its peaceful intentions by opening up its nuclear program to closer inspections.

"I think it is necessary for Iran to have maximum transparency and through this maximum transparency to create trust," ElBaradei told reporters following a meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

ElBaradei was s expected to press Iranian officials during his one-day trip to sign up to the IAEA's Additional Protocol which would allow more intrusive, short-notice inspections.

Diplomats in Tehran say there appears to be a lively debate going on within Iran's political establishment on whether to agree to the tougher inspection regime with some signs that Iran may be moving closer to signing the Additional Protocol.

"Reading between the lines, it seems like they may be preparing the ground to sign," said one European diplomat.

Sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is conscious that failure to address concerns about its nuclear ambitions could increase pressure from Washington and jeopardize relations with other countries, diplomats say.

The European Union has warned Iran a potential trade deal depends on greater transparency over its atomic program. Japan has put a $2 billion oil deal on hold over the nuclear concerns.

Iran insists it has no desire to make nuclear weapons. But it has so far refused to sign the IAEA's Additional Protocol until an international embargo on the export of nuclear technology to Iran is scrapped.

Nothing to hide
"ElBaradei in his talks with officials will see that Iran wants to cooperate and we hope there will be answers for the concerns of both sides," Kharrazi told reporters.

"Our activities have always been transparent and we are determined to continue this transparency because we have nothing to hide."

Iran is seen as the biggest concern among states that are part of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but have not signed the Additional Protocol. Less than half of NPT signatories have signed the Additional Protocol, and around half of those who have signed it have put it into effect.

Other states known or suspected to have nuclear weapons programs but have not signed the NPT include India, Pakistan and Israel, while North Korea quit the NPT last year.

Local media on Wednesday reflected divided opinion in Iran on whether to agree to tighter nuclear inspections.

The reformist English-language Iran Daily newspaper argued that doing so would counteract accusations that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

"Permitting unrestricted access to nuclear facilities will prove the transparency of the Iranian program and the falsity of enemy propaganda," the paper said in a front-page commentary.

But other voices in Iran argue that signing the Additional Protocol would not bring an end to Washington's demands on Iran.

"If the U.N. and the IAEA think Iran should give something to America it means they are too much under the influence of Washington's psychological war and propaganda," the hardline Resalat newspaper said in an editorial.

ElBaradei said there was no reason for Iran to delay answering the many open questions the IAEA discussed in a June report to the agency's board of governors, including details of their research and development on uranium enrichment centrifuges and the uranium enrichment program.

These same centrifuges can be used to make nuclear fuel or high grade enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

Iran students cancel protest to mark 1999 unrest
Meanwhile, Iranian student leaders backed down from protests in Tehran on Wednesday as police enforced tight security on the anniversary of 1999 unrest fearing a flare-up of last month's anti-clerical demonstrations.

Authorities have banned off-campus rallies, closed university dormitories, postponed summer exams and vowed to deal strictly with any unrest after some 4,000 people were arrested in 10 nights of sometimes violent protests across the country in June.

Students had planned to gather in front of the United Nations headquarters in Tehran and hold campus sit-ins to mark the day five years ago when hardline vigilantes fiercely loyal to conservative clerics attacked Tehran University dormitory, killing one person and sparking five days of mass protests.

Tehran - Reuters


Worker kills five in Mississippi plant shooting


A worker who allegedly disliked blacks opened fire at a Lockheed Martin aircraft parts factory in eastern Mississippi, killing five co-workers before committing suicide, police said.

Eight other employees at the plant near Meridian, Mississippi, were taken to local hospitals with gunshot wounds, said Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie. Two others were treated for shock.

Sollie said the gunman, identified as Doug Williams, 48, wore camouflage pants and used at least one shotgun and a semiautomatic weapon in the shooting, which occurred at around 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). He said the motive was still unknown.

Several people with links to the factory said they believed the shooting had been racially inspired.

"She felt like something bad was going to happen. She said he made a threat against black people," said Bobby McCall, the husband of one of the murdered victims.

Melvin Young, who was working at the time of the rampage, said managers at the plant had documented a number of complaints against Williams. Four of the five victims killed in the shooting were black, he added.

"This should have been nipped in the bud a long time ago," Young said. "When they search his home, I think they'll find an arsenal." A spokeswoman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin declined to comment on Williams' work record.

A police spokeswoman said there was no evidence yet to suggest a racial motive for the crime.

The sheriff's department identified the dead as Lanette McCall, 47, Micky Fitzgerald, 45, Sam Cockrell, 46, Thomas Willis, 57, and Charlie Miller, 58.

The incident was the latest in a series of workplace shootings in the United States and the deadliest since seven people were gunned down at an Internet consulting firm in Massachusetts on Dec. 26, 2000.

It also came one week after a 25-year-old man shot and killed three co-workers and wounded five others at a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City, Missouri, before killing himself in a shootout with police.

The massacre in Meridian, about 85 miles (135 km) east of the state capital of Jackson, stunned residents. "The whole community is just in shock," Meridian Mayor John Smith told Reuters. "We are the safest city in Mississippi with a population over 30,000 and we are facing an unspeakable horror."

Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the United States, said it was cooperating with police and other authorities investigating the shooting.

The company's plant in Meridian produces parts for the next-generation F/A-22 fighter jet and the C-130J Hercules transport plane. More than 100 workers are employed at the plant.

Meridian, Miss. - Reuters


Vice principal sought in 5 deaths in Bakersfield


Police called in the FBI to aid in their search for the vice principal of an elementary school as a possible suspect in the shooting deaths of five people, including three children.

The five -- including a grandmother and a mother -- were found dead in their Bakersfield home on Tuesday. Police said they apparently had been shot multiple times.

Detective Mary DeGeare said officers were looking for Vincent Brothers, 41, the vice principal at Fremont Elementary School. DeGeare said he is the estranged husband of the younger woman and father of at least two of the dead children, and had periodically lived in the house.

"He is a person of interest, a possible suspect," DeGeare said. "We'd like to find him to determine whether he was responsible or eliminate him as a suspect."

Police were called to the home early Tuesday by a family friend who had gone to check on the family. The bodies of the mother and her three children were found in a bedroom; the grandmother was in another room.

The coroner identified the victims as Earnestine Harper, 70, Joanie Harper, 39, Marques Harper, 4, Lindsey Harper, 23 months, and Marshall Harper, 1 1/2 months. The coroner says it's unknown when the five were killed and that autopsies were to be performed later on Wednesday.

Brothers' pickup truck was found Tuesday, Capt. Neil Mahan said. He wouldn't say where.

The family lived in a tough neighborhood with a reputation for gang activity, but friends and family described them as active in the community and very religious.

Joanie Harper worked with troubled children and refereed ballgames, said Darren Dixon, 22, Earnestine's nephew and Joanie's cousin. Dixon said he saw no friction in her relationship with Brothers. "She liked him a lot. He was a very nice guy,"

But Brothers has had a history of marital difficulties, according to court records and police.

Two previous marriages ended quickly, and he and Joanie Harper formally separated less than two weeks after their marriage in January 2000. He cited "irreconcilable differences," while she checked "nullification based on fraud" as the reason she wanted a divorce.

Still, they stayed involved in each other's lives, living together at times, friends and family members said.

In one earlier marriage, Brothers was convicted of spousal abuse, Mahan said. In his 1992 marriage, his wife filed for a restraining order, saying Brothers "is violent and has threatened to kill me."

Bakersfield, Calif. - The AP


Failed separation surgery fuels ethics debate
Fighting back tears and reading from the Koran, dozens mourn the Iranian twins who died during unprecedented separation surgery and prepare their bodies for the long journey home


Prayers were held on Wednesday for conjoined Iranian twins who died after a marathon separation operation as a debate erupted over whether the pioneering surgery should have even been attempted.

The 29-year-old sisters, Ladan and Laleh Bijani, had made it clear they were willing to risk death in high-risk surgery for a chance to pursue separate dreams and live out their lives in different cities.

"They gambled and have lost," was the verdict of Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, which nevertheless noted the unprecedented procedure was "history in the making."

Iranians in the city state were in a sombre mood as they gathered to hold prayers for the two women at a private home.

"I think the doctors have an obligation to fulfill the wishes of their patients," said Ali Homayouni, 25, an Iranian law student who had visited the twins in the hospital.

"It was their duty to make sure they do the best job they could given the circumstances," he said.

Medical experts critical
But medical experts were more critical, concerned about the haste and motives behind the surgery.

"There are troubling aspects about this case," Dr. Ian Kerridge, Associate Professor in bioethics at Sydney University's Center for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine told Reuters.

"...and one of them was the statement by one of the surgeons that they found it was more difficult than they had expected. To me that sets off a little bit of an alarm bell."

Kerridge suggested doctors could have let the girls wait for a year, talk to people who have not had the surgery or to people who felt it was wrong.

The man who had adopted and brought up the sisters in Iran, Alireza Safaian, a doctor himself, wept as he spoke to Reuters at his home in southwestern Tehran of the decision by his daughters and the Singapore doctors to go ahead with an operation.

"When they took them to Singapore, I knew they would bring back their bodies. They took them there and killed them."

Twins joined at the head occur once in every two million live births. A separation operation had never been tried on adults.

Doctors debate move
Dr. Keith Goh, who led the team of 28 specialists and 100 assistants in the 52-hour long operation, defended the decision.

"I think that for those of us who were here over these last three days, for those of us who flew in from all over the world...the time and commitment is a convincing indication of their belief that the decision is correct," Goh told a news conference.

Ben Carson, director of paediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who flew in for the operation the operation was worth it "even recognising that the odds were not good. I think it was a worthy humanitarian effort."

But a neurosurgeon in Germany who declined to separate the twins when they were 14 said on Tuesday he was stunned the operation had even been attempted.

Madjid Samii, president of the International Neuroscience Institute in Hanover, said he had reluctantly turned down the twins' request after a month of examinations in 1988 showed the shared vein, which drained blood from their brains to their hearts, meant chances of survival were almost nil.

Facing journalists from around the world last month, Ladan said she and her sister had no fear: "We know that every surgery has a high risk." Laleh, sharing a cream headscarf, added: "We would like to see the face of each other without the mirror."

Australian medical ethicist Nic Tonti-Filippini said consent of the patients was not enough reason to go ahead with surgery.

"The profession actually has to be satisfied that it's a safe enough procedure," he told Reuters.

But among ordinary people, the view was more sanguine.

"It is the destiny of the twins," said Javad Najafi, 39, an Iranian living in Singapore.

An Iranian diplomat said the twins' bodies were to be returned to Iran on a flight leaving Singapore on Thursday.

The Straits Times in its editorial saw a silver lining in the cloud of tragedy.

"It is not the done thing to talk about boosterism when patients have died. But wrung of its emotion in what was literally a clinical job, Singapore will gain in international renown for its medical advances when the verdicts of professional peers are in."

Singapore - Reuters


Azeri official says president's trip to Turkish hospital "no cause for alarm"
"The current medical examination is a planned one. The president's general condition and mood are great," Ambassador Mammad Aliyev said on ANS television. "There's no cause for alarm."


President Haidar Aliyev's return to a Turkish hospital where he was treated this spring after a collapse was a planned follow-up visit, the country's ambassador to Turkey said on Azerbaijan television Wednesday.

The 80-year-old Aliyev was flown to Turkey late Tuesday, raising concerns about the state of his health. Aliyev, who has a history of heart trouble, collapsed during a speech in April and was hospitalized in Turkey for nine days, some of it in intensive care.

Aliyev had a heart attack in 1987 and underwent bypass surgery at a Cleveland clinic in 1999. He underwent prostate surgery at the same clinic in February 2002, and earlier this year he had a hernia operation there.

Aliyev will be treated at the military medical academy in Ankara, the president's office said. No further details on his condition were released.

"The current medical examination is a planned one. The president's general condition and mood are great," Ambassador Mammad Aliyev said on ANS television. "There's no cause for alarm."

Last month, Azerbaijan's ruling party nominated Aliyev to stand for a third term in October elections. A former KGB general, Aliyev was elected president of Azerbaijan in 1993 and 1998. The constitution limits presidents to two terms, but the regulation took effect in 1995, allowing him to run this year.

Although he has previously insisted he will run for office this year, Aliyev has begun to lay the groundwork for his son, Ilham, to succeed him by giving him an increasingly visible role in the country. Ilham Aliev is first vice president of the state oil company, chairman of the country's Olympic committee and deputy chairman of his father's political party, Yeni Azerbaijan.

Ankara - TDN with the AP


Scottish toddler killed in gunfight in Foca


A 2-year-old Scottish boy was killed Tuesday by a ricocheting bullet fired during a fight at a western Turkish resort, a news report said. One Turkish man was killed and two others were wounded in the gunfight.

Alastair Grimasson was struck in the chest as he slept in his carriage near his parents at a cafe in the Aegean tourist resort of Foca, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The gunfire started after two men in the cafe began arguing and one of them pulled a gun. A 29-year old man was killed while two others were shot in the waist, Anatolia reported.

The British Consulate in Izmir confirmed Alastair's death Tuesday, but would not give any further details.

The boy underwent surgery but did not survive, Anatolia said. There was no information on the boy's hometown. Police in Foca could not be reached for comment.

Foca is some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the city of Izmir.

Istanbul - The Associated Press


Appeals court clears Soysal of terror charges


A separatist Kurdish terrorist, who was abducted by Turkish special forces in Moldova four years ago, was cleared of terrorism charges Tuesday, his lawyer claimed.

An appeals court said there was no proof to support a prosecutor's allegations linking Cevat Soysal to terrorist activities and ruled that taped telephone conversations used as evidence were obtained illegally. The court said it was not proven that the voice on the tapes belonged to Soysal, his lawyer Levent Kanat said.

The appeals court's decision came in response to the prosecutor's appeal to increase Soysal's 18-year prison sentence to life imprisonment, Kanat said.

But Soysal must still serve out the 18-year term for providing training to a group of Kurds, that included the members of separatist terror organization Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Moldova and in Romania.

The prosecutor had used the telephone tapes to back his accusations that Soysal ordered an attack in Istanbul in 1999, which killed 13 people, as well as a number of other attacks.

Soysal has applied to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing Turkey of denying him a fair trial, abducting him by force and torturing him. His lawyers claimed Turkish interrogators injected him with drugs and sprayed him with freezing water.

The first images after Soysal's capture showed him hooded and being helped down the steps of a small jet by two Turkish intelligence officers in black ski masks.

Before his abduction Soysal, a political writer, had been living in Germany as a political refugee since 1994.

The Turkish government is working on legal amendments to liberalize Turkey's strict laws which forsee harsh prison sentences for those supporting separatist Kurdish movement. The policy change is a result of Turkey's desire to conform its laws with the European Union and open membership talks with the body next year.

Ankara - TDN with the Associated Press


Bulls serve up gore-free run in Pamplona festival


Jumbo-size bulls thundering along cobblestone streets knocked down several daredevils on Wednesday in an otherwise quick and clean run on the third day of the San Fermin festival.

A day after blood flowed, with three people gored in spectacular attacks by bulls, the Spanish Red Cross said the only injuries were from falls or tramplings. Three people were hospitalized.

The nastiest tumble came when a bull pinned a man against the wall of the narrow alley leading into the bullring that marks the end of the 825-meter (900-yard) run, then flipped him over like a ragdoll.

The runner's head hit the ground hard, and he lay there unconscious for nearly a minute as people and bulls streamed by. Spanish television said later he did not appear to be seriously injured.

In other brushes with toros, the tip of bull's horn caught a man by the sleeve of his black T-shirt and threw him. And one young woman trotting innocently toward the arena alley did not look up or flinch as a bull's horn practically grazed her left ear.

The six bulls came from one of Spain's oldest and most prestigious ranches, that of breeder Juan Pedro Domecq, and four of them weighed well over 600 kilos (1,300 pounds), heavy for a San Fermin specimen.

The fiesta, famed for its all-night street parties, dates back to the late 16th century but gained world fame from Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises."

Running bulls through the town began as simply the easiest way to get them to the ring for bullfights, but eventually daredevils started running in front of them.

Tens of thousands from all over the world have been pouring into Pamplona for the annual festival ever since, with an estimated 1.5 million attending over the course of the festival.

Overcrowding has made the runs dangerous over the last years. Since record keeping began in 1924, 13 runners have been killed. The last to die was an American, Matthew Tassio of Illinois, in 1995.

Pamplona, Spain - The AP


Bush presses South Africa's Mbeki on Zimbabwe
Bush's Africa trip is aimed at promoting democracy and economic development on the continent, and spotlighting US initiatives to fight AIDS and terrorism


U.S. President George W. Bush urged South Africa's Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday to step up pressure on Zimbabwe, saying it was time for a "return to democracy" amid a mounting crisis under President Robert Mugabe.

Bush said he discussed the "very sad situation" in Zimbabwe with the South African president, during more than an hour of talks also touching on trade, HIV/AIDS, and Liberia's crisis.

"In Zimbabwe I've encouraged President Mbeki and his government to continue to work for the return of democracy in the country," Bush told a joint news conference in Pretoria, on the second leg of his five-nation African tour.

But Bush denied there was tension between him and Mbeki over South Africa's northern neighbor. He said he would not second-guess the South African leader, who has advocated a policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward Mugabe to resolve the country's ills.

Mbeki said he and Bush were "absolutely of one mind" about how to deal with Zimbabwe, where the opposition accuses Mugabe of political repression and disastrous economic mismanagement.

"We are absolutely of one mind about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe. It is necessary to resolve these matters as quickly as possible," Mbeki said.

"The principal responsibility for the resolution of this problem rests with the people of Zimbabwe," he added, echoing earlier statements which indicated Pretoria was unwilling to take an aggressive public stance on Mugabe's 23-year rule.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has praised Bush's tougher approach and accused African leaders like Mbeki of displaying "solidarity with dictatorship."

Bush arrived in South Africa late on Tuesday from Senegal, where he told West African leaders he would help to end Liberia's civil war but that he had not yet decided on sending peacekeeping troops.

In South Africa, Bush, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, discussed a range of issues with Mbeki and his aides, including economic ties and Washington's war on terror.

Bush and Mbeki said relations were warm between the United States and South Africa -- which had disagreed sharply over Washington's war on Iraq.

In a rare sign of pro-Bush sentiment on a continent still dubious about the U.S.-led war, about 100 supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria to thank Bush.

"Bush, Like Iraq, Save Zimbabwe" read one poster held by demonstrators, who sang and waved under the watchful eyes of police wearing full riot gear.

"We are here in support of George Bush's presence in Africa. He has done a lot elsewhere worldwide insofar as democracy and freedom are concerned," MDC supporter Jayjay Sibanda said.

The United States and the European Union criticized Mugabe's re-election last year as flawed, and Powell recently urged a more aggressive approach in an editorial in the New York Times.

But even before Wednesday's talks, Mbeki said he would not have "anything new" to tell Bush on Zimbabwe.

"In our view a solution to the problems of Zimbabwe must come from the leadership of Zimbabwe," he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation in an interview on Tuesday.

Iraq bone of contention
Bush and Mbeki did not publicly touch on the biggest bone of contention between the two -- the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

South African opposition to the war has been expressed most bluntly by former President Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who said Bush was wrong to go to war without U.N. approval.

Pointedly, Mandela will be abroad during his visit, but several groups including the ruling African National Congress said they would protest Bush's presence in the country.

Pretoria has also been annoyed by a U.S. decision last week to include South Africa in a list of 35 countries that will no longer receive military aid because of its refusal to sign an agreement exempting U.S. citizens from possible prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.

Bush was due to dine with South African business leaders and Mbeki hopes the U.S. president would use his influence to drum up more investment in South Africa.

Mbeki's government has pursued market-friendly policies and fiscal prudence in a bid to woo foreign investors.

Bush's Africa trip is aimed at promoting democracy and economic development on the continent, and spotlighting U.S. initiatives to fight AIDS and terrorism.

With an estimated 4.8 million people believed to have the HIV virus that causes AIDS, South Africa has more sufferers of the disease than any other country.

Pretoria - Reuters


Bush brief visit to lift Botswana from obscurity


For a few brief hours U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Botswana today will thrust the obscure country to the centre of the world stage.

The six-hour visit to the southern African state, squeezed into Bush's five-day continental tour, represents a pat on the back for a long-standing ally Washington sees as an example to the rest of Africa in pursuing democracy and market economics.

The Gaborone government demonstrated its loyalty on Tuesday, saying it agreed not to hand U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court, which Bush fears may be used for politically motivated action against U.S. personnel serving abroad.

Bush has severed military aid to 35 countries, including regional power South Africa, that refused to sign.

For Bush the Botswana trip is an opportunity to highlight his country's contribution to Africa's battle against AIDS.

Perhaps more important for the dozens of photographers from the United States, it will offer a chance to snap Bush and his wife Laura at a nature reserve -- the nearest he is likely to come to a big-game safari during his tour and a far cry from the two-day trek Bill and Hillary Clinton made in Botswana in 1998.

The country is mostly desert, home to some 55,000 San Bushmen -- nomadic hunters and gatherers who have roamed southern Africa for centuries, and whose struggle to retain a traditional way of life despite creeping development has brought widespread media attention.

Botswana has a population of just 1.7 million people and boasts among the highest average per capita incomes in Africa -- $3,100 per year -- thanks to its reserves of gem diamonds, many of which end up in the United States.

Yet the same mines have become the breeding grounds for HIV/AIDS virus, and the country holds the dubious honor of the highest rate of HIV infection on Earth.

Almost one in five people in Botswana -- or 330,000 people -- have HIV, rising to 38.5 percent of the sexually active population.

"We're really looking forward to this visit. We hope we'll get something out of it. We need a lot of support -- not only material, but moral support too," Abinel Whendero of Botswana's National AIDS Coordinating Agency, told Reuters.

Washington, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and U.S. drug firms Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck have all stepped into Botswana's fight against AIDS -- which unlike South Africa next door promises life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs for all.

Also lending a hand against AIDS are a dozen volunteers of the U.S. Peace Corps that Bush sent back to Botswana last year at President Festus Mogae's request -- four years after they were withdrawn because Botswana was seen as too well off.

Apart from meeting the volunteers Bush will see one of three regional trade hubs the United States opened in Africa last year to help the continent trade its way out of poverty.

Compared to African countries destroyed by wars over mineral resources, Botswana is a model of successful development.

Now the supplier of a third of the world's supply of diamonds by value, Botswana has been rated the least corrupt African country by Transparency International and the United Nations said on Tuesday women fared better there than in Greece, Italy and Japan.

Gaborone - Reuters


Man wakes after nearly two decades in coma, greets mom


The words began tumbling out -- at first just a few nouns and eventually a torrent of phrases.

Terry Wallis, who had been in a coma since a 1984 car accident, regained consciousness last month to the surprise of doctors and the delight of his family, including his mother, who heard his first word in 19 years.

"He started out with 'Mom' and surprised her and then it was 'Pepsi' and then it was 'milk.' And now it's anything he wants to say," Stone County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center social director Alesha Badgley said on Tuesday.

His mother, Angilee Wallis, called her son's return to consciousness a miracle: "I couldn't tell you my first thought, I just fell over on the floor," she said.

Terry Wallis, now 39, was riding with a friend in July 1984 when their car left the road and plunged into a creek. Wallis and his friend were found the next day underneath a bridge. The friend was dead and Wallis was comatose.

Wallis' daughter, Amber, was born shortly before the accident, and the coma dragged on for almost two decades. She is now 19 and her dad has said he wants to walk again, for her. He is a quadriplegic as a result of the crash.

"It's been hard dealing with it, it's been hard r [snip - maximum size exceeded]

-- Alexander
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