World briefs 2/9/06

Iraqi higher education minister's convoy attacked

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's higher education minister escaped unharmed from a car bomb attack on his convoy in Baghdad early Wednesday but at least three of his bodyguards were lightly wounded, a ministry spokesman said. The attack on independent Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Mudafar was the second attempt on his life within the past two years. The first happened when he was education minister under the transitional government of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Higher Education Ministry spokesman Bassel al-Khatib said a car bomb exploded in downtown Baghdad's Karradah district as al-Mudafar's four-vehicle convoy passed. Al-Khatib had no details if the car bomb was driven by a suicide attacker or was detonated by remote control. Police Maj. Qusai Ibrahim said the minister was unharmed in the attack and his car sped away from the scene.

Guantanamo Bay hunger strike at lowest number

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Four detainees remain on hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, the fewest since the protest began last summer, the military said Wednesday. Three are being force-fed with nasal tubes, said Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a spokesman for the detention center at a U.S. base in eastern Cuba. All four are in stable condition, according to Martin, who did not speculate about why detainees dropped out of the protest. The military said the strike began with 76 detainees protesting their confinement at the remote, high-security prison and that the number joining the protest reached 131 in mid-September.

First outbreak of deadly bird flu reported in Africa

LAGOS, Nigeria -- The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been detected on a large commercial chicken farm in Nigeria -- the first reported outbreak in Africa, the World Organization for Animal Health said Wednesday. The outbreak appears to be restricted to birds, and no human infections have been reported, the Paris-based organization said. Nigeria said the outbreak was on a farm in Jaji, a village in the northern state of Kaduna. Agriculture Minister Adamu Bello told reporters in Abuja that the deadly strain of the virus was detected in samples taken Jan. 16 from birds on the farm. All 46,000 chicken, geese and ostriches on the Nigerian farm have been killed and their bodies disposed of, said Alex Thiermann, an expert for the World Organization for Animal Health. Nigerian authorities have banned the movement of birds and people off the farm. Officials also are investigating whether birds were transferred to other farms in the past 21 days, and they, too, are being quarantined, he said.

U.S. officials met figures from insurgent groups

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. officials have met figures from some Sunni Arab insurgent groups but have so far not received any commitment for them to lay down their arms, Western diplomats in Baghdad and neighboring Jordan said Wednesday. Three more U.S. troops were killed in Iraq -- two of them in roadside bombings, the U.S. command said. The meetings, described as being in the initial stage, have not included members of al-Qaida in Iraq or like-minded religious extremists, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Contacts have taken place in western Iraq, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to two diplomats based in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Low turnout at Nepal's first vote in seven years

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Rebel attacks, soldiers shooting protesters and low turnout tainted Nepal's first election in seven years Wednesday, dealing a blow to the king who seized power a year ago. Six people were killed in violence Wednesday when Nepal held municipal elections that the United States called a "hollow attempt" by King Gyanendra to legitimize his power. One of the dead was a protester shot by soldiers. Voters trickled into schools, Buddhist shrines and Hindu temples to cast ballots in the municipal election. But many people said they were scared away by a rebel threat to kill anyone who took part and a government warning it would shoot anyone caught disrupting the polls. Chief Election Commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari said a preliminary estimate put turnout at more than 20 percent. Electoral officials said they plan to release some results today.

-- From wire reports