U.N. - No security increase coming after bomb attack

Friday, August 22, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- More bodies were pulled from the rubble of the bombed U.N. headquarters on Thursday, and the United Nations announced plans to withdraw one-third of its staff.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the unprecedented suicide attack against the United Nations. The group calling itself the "Armed Vanguards of a Second Mohammed Army" pledged "to continue fighting every foreigner and to carry out similar operations" in a statement sent to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel.

There was no way to verify the claim's authenticity. Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said he was aware of a group with a similar name, but did not elaborate.

He warned that terrorism "is emerging as the number one security threat" in Iraq.

In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials said they were unfamiliar with the group and its claim of responsibility couldn't be authenticated.

Heat wave prompts early harvest in Italy

ROME -- Vintners across Italy are rushing into one of the earliest harvests in recent memory to save their grapes from drying up in this summer's exceptional heat wave.

Italian meteorologists have described this summer as the nation's hottest in more than 50 years. But experts say the dry spell hasn't excessively hurt the grapes, and their early maturation is hardly bad news for vintners.

The heat has banished mold and parasites from the vines and thickened the grapes' skin, which gives wine its aromas and raises its sugar and alcoholic content, said Luigi Mainetti an official at Coldiretti, an Italian farmers' association.

If the weather turns out just right, wines such as Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, often the jewels of Italian and foreign cellars, will produce an especially good vintage, Mainetti said.

Liberia's peace talks end, interim leader selected

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Liberia's combatants on Thursday chose a longtime campaigner against rule by warlords to lead the country's post-war interim government.

The announcement of the selection of Gyude Bryant, a businessman seen as a consensus builder, came at the close of 78 days of tumultuous peace talks in Accra, Ghana.

The top U.N. envoy for Liberia, meanwhile, said he would ask the Security Council for 15,000 troops to secure the peace, which would make it the largest anywhere in the world. The world body has already approved a force, but not its final size.

Speaking in Monrovia, U.N. envoy Jacques Klein, an American, also said he had asked the United States to keep some of its troops here to help train a new army for Liberia -- despite President Bush's commitment to pulling out a roughly 200-strong U.S. deployment by Oct. 1.

"We are hoping the U.S. will take it on," Klein said.

Argentine senate OKs scrapping amnesty laws

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentina's Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to scrap a pair of amnesty laws dating to the 1980s that had ended trials for human rights abuses committed during the country's military dictatorship.

Human rights activists and relatives of the disappeared present broke into raucous applause when it was announced that Senators had voted 43 to seven with one abstention to scrap the laws. Twenty-one lawmakers were absent. The lower House of Congress had passed the proposal last week.

The final congressional approval marked a victory for human rights groups who are pressing for a national re-examination of the 1976-83 dictatorship.

President Nestor Kirchner, who has given human rights new prominence during his weeks in power, is expected to sign the bill. Observers said, however, that the Supreme Court will likely have the final decision on the laws.

-- From wire reports

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