World briefs 4/16/05

Saturday, April 16, 2005

U.N. secretary-general goes on the offensive

UNITED NATIONS -- Besieged over the oil-for-food program and other scandals, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has taken a tougher stand against his critics in recent weeks, defending himself heatedly against American opponents, the media and even member governments. The depth of his exasperation was evident this week in remarks he made lamenting that U.N. opponents had been "relentless" in their attacks and the world body wasn't fighting back enough.

Key weapons sites being dismantled in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog expressed concern Friday at the removal of equipment and "significant dismantling" at 37 key sites in Iraq previously monitored for potential nuclear activity. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency also said satellite imagery has revealed extensive excavation at one site where contaminated rubble from Saddam Hussein's nuclear program was buried.

Blaze at Paris Opera hotel kills at least 20

PARIS -- Searing flames and thick smoke sent people jumping from windows of an overcrowded budget hotel before dawn Friday in one of the worst fires in recent memory in the French capital. At least 20 people were killed -- half of them children and many African immigrants lodged there by authorities. The six-story Paris Opera hotel was packed when the fire broke out at 2:20 a.m. The only way out was a stairwell choked with thick black smoke and flames. Fifty-three people were injured, 11 seriously. The injured came from France, Senegal, Portugal, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Ukraine and Algeria, police said.

Iraqi militants continue bombing violence

BAGHDAD, Iraq --A suicide car bomb exploded near Baghdad's airport, killing one person and injuring five, police said. It targeted a local police commander who escaped unharmed. Another car bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy in the city's western Mansour district, damaging a Humvee and injuring six people, including a U.S. soldier. A bomb also exploded in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood where U.S. troops were on patrol, killing one civilian and wounding three, police said. A fourth blast in the city didn't appear to cause any injuries, Capt. Talib Thamir said.

Pro-Syrian lawmaker named Lebanese premier

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanon's president on Friday named moderate pro-Syrian lawmaker Najib Mikati as prime minister, breaking a political deadlock and reviving chances for holding parliamentary elections next month. The elections are crucial for the opposition, which backed the Harvard-educated millionaire businessman in an effort to end the impasse in forming a government and open the way for the balloting that many believe will end Damascus' hold on parliament. The legislature's term expires at the end of May. The United States has increased pressure on Lebanon to hold the vote without delay.

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