World briefs 06/06/03

Friday, June 6, 2003

WHO officials say SARS outbreak 'over the peak'

BEIJING -- The SARS outbreak is "over its peak" around the world, including in the hardest-hit country China, a World Health Organization official said Thursday.

A renewed outbreak in Toronto shows, however, that the world must still remain vigilant against the illness, said Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative in China.

"It's fair to say that the SARS epidemic is over its peak. We can see it globally and we can also see it in China," Bekedam told a news conference. "I think that's very good news."

He said the outbreak in Canada's largest city showed that another epidemic could be sparked with "just one missed diagnosis."

"I think the challenge now is to eliminate" SARS as a public health threat, he said at a news conference.

His comments came as China for a second consecutive day reported no new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome on its mainland.

The Health Ministry reported two new fatalities, raising the mainland death toll to 336.

Blix to U.N.:Don't jump to conclusions on Iraq

UNITED NATIONS -- Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix warned Thursday against jumping to the conclusion that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction just because there is a long list of outstanding questions about its weapons program.

Saddam Hussein's regime may have hidden weapons, but it also may have destroyed them, and now that the Iraqi dictator has been ousted "it should be possible to establish the truth we all want to know," he told the U.N. Security Council.

The failure of U.S.-led teams to find illegal weapons after visiting more than 230 suspected sites over the past 11 weeks has become a major issue in Washington, London and other capitals, since Saddam's possession of banned weapons was the main justification for invading Iraq.

In a short public statement to the council -- his last before he retires on June 30 -- Blix did not mention the U.S. refusal to allow his weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

He reiterated that his teams were ready to resume work.

Battle between Taliban, Afghan soldiers kills 47

POPULZAI, Afghanistan -- A gun battle between government and Taliban forces that killed 47 fighters lasted for nine hours and ranged over three villages, one of the deadliest firefights since the hardline Islamic regime fell, an Afghan official said Thursday.

Forty Taliban and seven government troops died in fighting that began Wednesday after Afghan soldiers tracked Taliban who had attacked a checkpoint to a mud hut in the village of Nimakai. "This is the first time that we have killed this many Taliban," Fazaluddin Agha, a senior government official in nearby Spinboldak, boasted Thursday. "We killed everyone. None of the Taliban escaped."

Agha said U.S. special forces were not involved in the fighting, but helped bring some of the injured Afghan soldiers to their Kandahar base for treatment.

Moroccan man arrested in connection with Sept. 11

PARIS -- French authorities have arrested a Moroccan man in connection with an investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, judicial officials said Thursday.

Karim Mehdi, 34, was taken into custody on Sunday at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the officials said on condition of anonymity. He had arrived from Germany and planned to leave to the French island of La Reunion off southeastern Africa.

The arrest was the first in France since French anti-terrorism judges opened an investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks just a few weeks after they took place in 2001.

Mehdi was to appear before a judge Thursday evening before being placed under investigation -- one step short of being officially charged -- for alleged connection with a terrorist enterprise, officials said.

-- From wire reports

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