World briefs 07/24/03

Iran confirms holding top al-Qaida operatives

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran announced Wednesday it was holding senior members of the al-Qaida terror network and will hunt down any others on its soil, while the United States demanded it turn over any prisoners to face justice.

Tehran's announcement came just days after President Bush accused it of harboring terrorists. Iran's government has long said al-Qaida operatives are in its prisons, but this was the first word that some prisoners held high positions in Osama bin Laden's terror network -- blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and for suicide bombings this year at Western housing complexes in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

"A large number of small- and big-time elements of al-Qaida are in our custody," Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi told reporters.

He did not identify any of the detainees or comment on media reports that Iran holds al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, the group's spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, or its security chief Saif al-Adil.

The Bush administration said it could not confirm Yunesi's comments and questioned whether al-Qaida members in Iran were in prison or being harbored by the government.

Sao Tome coup ends with amnesty agreement

SAO TOME, Sao Tome and Principe -- The president of Sao Tome and Principe returned to this West African island nation Wednesday under a deal that grants amnesty to the military forces who ousted him in a bloodless coup last week.

President Fradique de Menezes hugged members of his Cabinet as he returned to his country accompanied by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose nation has an arrangement to share huge offshore oil reserves with Sao Tome.

The deal, negotiated between the coup leaders and international envoys, calls for the formation of a new government -- with Menezes remaining president.

It also includes guarantees that Menezes, who has fired four prime ministers and dissolved parliament once since his five-year term began in September 2001, will respect his nation's separation of powers.

The coup leader, Maj. Fernando Pereira, said the military could rebel again if the government violates the agreement.

Eiffel Tower reopens after electrical fire

PARIS -- Tourists poured back into the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday, a day after an electrical fire -- possibly fueled by wet paint -- sent smoke wafting from the Paris landmark and thousands of people scurrying for exits.

Tower executives played down the Tuesday evening incident, saying a temporary shutdown and evacuation were necessary after the fire erupted in a sealed-off telecommunications room on the third floor, the highest level accessible to visitors.

By Wednesday morning, the tower was open again for business. Workers cleaned up charred debris even as visitors flooded back.

Afghan army launches first major operation

KABUL, Afghanistan -- About 1,000 soldiers of Afghanistan's new national army launched their first major operation, sweeping for insurgents in the east of the country, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

No fighting has been reported since the operation, codenamed Warrior Sweep, began Monday when troops left Kabul for Surmad district in Paktia province, the spokesman for coalition forces, U.S. Col. Rodney Davis, said.

The operation was the largest ever carried out by troops from the new army since the U.S. and French forces began training recruits over a year ago. The army is eventually expected to grow to 70,000 soldiers, but training has been slow and the force now numbers just 5,000 men.

The Afghan troops will "establish a long-term presence" in the Surmad Valley and speak with villagers to assess reconstruction needs, Davis said.

-- From wire reports

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