BAGHDAD, Iraq

Allies launch offensive near Baghdad

Some 5,000 U.S. Marines, British troops and Iraqi forces launched a new offensive yesterday aimed at clearing a swath of insurgent hotbeds across a cluster of dusty, small towns south of Baghdad.

The series of raids and house searches was the third large-scale military operation this month aimed at suppressing Iraq’s Sunni Muslim insurgency ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30.

The assault aims to stem an increase of violence in an area that has been notorious for months as a danger zone. Car bombings, rocket attacks and ambushes have surged in recent weeks — likely in part due to guerrillas who slipped out of the militant stronghold of Fallujah, according to commanders.

Despite the series of offensives, violence continued unabated. Masked gunmen shot to death a Sunni cleric yesterday in the second such attack against a member of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, which has called for a boycott of the national elections.

The cleric, Sheik Ghalib Ali al-Zuhairi, was killed as he left a mosque after dawn prayers in the town of Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

 

KABUL, Afghanistan

U.N. hostages set free after four weeks

Three U.N. workers kidnapped in Afghanistan four weeks ago were released unharmed yesterday, a day after a string of raids by U.S. and Afghan security forces.

The release was a relief to foreign aid workers and U.N. staffers among Kabul’s 2,000-strong expatriate community, under virtual lockdown since the kidnapping. Large tracts of the country are already off-limits to relief workers because of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.

Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, British-Irish citizen Annetta Flanigan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were seized at gunpoint from a U.N. vehicle on Oct. 28 in Kabul.

They were first foreigners abducted in the Afghan capital since the Taliban fell three years ago, and their abductions raised fears that the Afghan capital could become prey to the kind of deadly kidnappings by insurgents that have plagued Iraq.

“They are out,” U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. “I’m told they are in good spirits and they seem to be fine.”

 

KIEV, Ukraine

Ukraine president calls for talks amid protest

President Leonid Kuchma called for all sides to negotiate in Ukraine’s spiraling political crisis yesterday, hours after the opposition leader declared himself winner of a disputed presidential election to the approval of tens of thousands of street protesters.

A top opposition figure accepted the outgoing president’s proposal, the Interfax news agency reported. “We now have decided to give the possibility to Kuchma to form proposals for talks,” Yuliya Tymoshenko said, according to Interfax. It was not immediately clear when the talks might take place.

The startling development in the three-day standoff came as the Bush administration urged the Ukrainian government not to certify results of Sunday’s runoff election results that showed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, backed by Kuchma, defeating the Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko.

 

LONDON

Report urges group cooperation to fight AIDS

The women’s rights movement and the AIDS movement must come together if the world is to ultimately win the fight against HIV, the United Nations said in a report released yesterday.

Women and girls in the developing world are increasingly becoming the main victims of AIDS, but current safe-sex prevention strategies are of little use to the millions who don’t have the power to say no to sex or to insist on condom use.

The inequality women face — from poverty and stunted education, to rape and denial of women’s inheritance and property rights — is a major obstacle to victory over the virus, according to the latest global HIV status report published by UNAIDS.

 

— Compiled from Daily wire reports

 

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