World briefs 4/20/06

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Russia: Iran must halt uranium enrichment

MOSCOW -- Russia called on Iran Wednesday to halt all uranium enrichment activities, saying the international community is demanding "urgent and constructive steps" from Tehran to ease concerns about its nuclear program. "Iran must heed the call to stop work linked to uranium enrichment," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying. He spoke a day after a meeting in Moscow of diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

Experts authenticate Saddam's signature

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Handwriting experts authenticated Saddam Hussein's signatures on more documents related to a crackdown on Shiites in the 1980s, the chief judge in his trial said Wednesday. Among the documents was apparently an order approving death sentences for 148 Shiites. Saddam and his seven co-defendants were in the courtroom in the latest session of the trial Wednesday, as chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman read a report by handwriting experts on two documents said to be signed by Saddam. The experts confirmed the signatures were those of the former Iraqi leader, Abdel-Rahman said. The experts' report did not give details on the documents, but one was dated June 16, 1984. That is the same date of a memo approving the death sentences of the Shiites, presented by prosecutors earlier in the 6-month-old trial.

Prodi's win confirmed in Italian election

ROME -- A top Italian court confirmed the slim election victory of center-left economist Romano Prodi, although Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition was not conceding defeat Wednesday. The Court of Cassation said Prodi won the lower house of parliament by a margin of 24,000 votes over Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives -- a margin virtually unchanged from the one previously announced. Prodi said he had not received a phone call from Berlusconi.

-- From wire reports

Benedict celebrates 1st anniversary as pontiff

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI said on the first anniversary of his election as pontiff Wednesday that he could not do the job alone, and he asked for continued prayers to be the "gentle and firm" pastor of the Roman Catholic Church. A visibly moved Benedict told an estimated 50,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square that his election came as a complete surprise to him, saying the cardinals had elected "my poor person" to succeed "the great Pope John Paul II." "I always knew I couldn't do this job, this mission alone," he said. "Thank you from the heart to all those who in various ways are near me or follow me spiritually with affection and prayers from afar. Benedict was the oldest pope elected in 275 years and the first German one in nearly 1,000 years when he was chosen, at age 78, to succeed John Paul on April 19, 2005.

China tries to rein in Christianity's spread

BEIJING -- For decades, Zhang Rongliang roamed across China, an energetic Christian preacher setting up one of the largest networks of Protestant churches operating outside state control. For the past 16 months, however, authorities have shunted Zhang between detention centers, looking for a court to convict him on charges one judge sought to dismiss because he thought the evidence was flimsy. "They just keep delaying and delaying and delaying," said Zhang Yinan, no relation to the preacher but a friend and a chronicler of China's unofficial Christian churches. "Just this morning, I prayed for his release." Always wary of religion, the communist government has sought to rein in Christianity's rapid spread in China, targeting activist preachers for arrest and intimidation. Preachers have been jailed or driven into exile or deeper underground, depriving Chinese Christians of some of their best-organized and most entrepreneurial leaders. China's limits on religion are sure to come up when Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with President Bush at the White House on Thursday.

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