U.S. detains, questions top Iraqi officials

WASHINGTON

Several top officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, including the president’s half brother and a former science adviser, have been captured by allied forces.

The Iraqis are being interrogated about Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, U.S. officials said yesterday. They also are being pressed for details on where Saddam is, if he is alive, as well as the whereabouts of other former Iraqi leaders.

The captured Iraqis include Watban Ibrahim Hasan, one of Saddam’s three half brothers, who once served as Iraq’s interior minister. Hasan was the five of spades in the deck of playing cards the U.S. military issued with pictures of wanted Iraqi officials.

The war’s commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said yesterday that the United States was holding several high-ranking Iraqi prisoners in western Iraq. Neither he nor Pentagon officials would say how many leading Iraqis have been captured.

As the fighting in Iraq winds down, American forces are stepping up the search for the chemical and biological weapons the United States accuses Saddam’s government of having stashed away. So far, no caches of weapons of mass destruction have been confirmed in Iraq, military officials said yesterday.


Palestinian Cabinet awaiting govt. approval

JERUSALEM

The incoming Palestinian prime minister completed a new Cabinet yesterday in line with a leadership overhaul the United States sought, keeping the key post of security czar for himself and appointing several professionals and reformers.

Once the Cabinet of Mahmoud Abbas is approved by the Palestinian parliament, possibly later this week, President Bush is expected to unveil a “road map” to Palestinian statehood, starting the clock ticking on the three-year plan.

Israel’s willingness to go along with the plan remains unclear, although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did stake out a relatively moderate position in an interview published yesterday.

Sharon reiterated that he has many reservations about the plan, but also believes the Iraq war has created a chance for reaching a peace deal more quickly than anticipated. In the past, Sharon advocated an interim deal, saying a final treaty must be delayed for years because of the gaps in positions.

Sharon also told the Israeli daily Haaretz that Palestinian statehood is inevitable and suggested he is ready to dismantle some Jewish settlements.


Attitudes toward taxes remain ambivalent

WASHINGTON

Six in 10 Americans say they are against more tax cuts when the country is at war and already faces budget deficits, according to an Associated Press poll. Still, half of all Americans say their taxes are too high.

The poll, taken in the days before tomorrow’s tax deadline, found that 61 percent say it would be better to hold off on additional tax cuts right now to avoid making budget deficits worse and ensure there is adequate money to pay for the war.

Half that many, 31 percent, said they think it is more important to pass more tax cuts to give people more money to spend and to stimulate the economy, said the poll conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

“I think they need to figure out how to pay for the war,” said Joseph Ames, a 28-year-old cook from Boise, Idaho, who considers himself a political independent.


Nigerian riots disrupt elections for 2nd day

LAGOS, Nigeria

Fighting between tribal and political rivals disrupted legislative elections in Nigeria’s oil-producing south for a second day yesterday. At least two dozen people were killed in the voting and hundreds forced to flee their homes, witnesses and election monitors said.

The vote for 469 seats is a key gauge of civil tensions a week ahead of presidential elections and an important test for democracy in the Africa’s most populous nation. Military coups have scuttled Nigeria’s previous attempts to hold democratic, civilian-run elections.

The voting began on Saturday but was extended until yesterday in several areas where the balloting was marred.

The oil-rich region has been the scene of numerous clashes in recent weeks between Ijaw militants and government troops over voting districts the Ijaws say favor their ethnic rivals, the Itsekiris.


Wrist tags mandated for SARS patients

SINGAPORE

Singapore authorities stepped up efforts to contain a deadly new virus Saturday, including issuing electronic wrist tags to keep track of those under quarantine.

Reports Saturday of nine more deaths worldwide brought the death toll from Severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS to at least 125 in 20 countries. The virus, which has sickened over 2,700, has no known cure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, coughing and body aches.

In Singapore, where 558 people are under home quarantine, the government issued its first electronic wrist tags, which sound an alarm and issue an alert to a monitoring station if a person breaks the bracelet or leaves the house.

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