US recalls top Iraq officer

Mr Bremer met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice at the White House on Tuesday.

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The coalition has refused to explain the reasons behind Mr Bremer’s hasty departure – or the cancellation of his meeting with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller.

But the move is said to reflect Washington’s frustration with the increasingly lawless situation in Iraq.

Despite Mr Bremer outlining a seven-step plan for Iraqi sovereignty in September, nothing has been put in place to assure the ceding of political and military control.

“It’s beginning to be realized that it’s not going to follow that path,” one administration official involved in Iraq policy in Washington said.

There are also concerns about the body set up to take over control of Iraq’s political and military affairs.

The Iraqi interim council has done “nothing of substance” since it was appointed in late August, a US official in Baghdad recently asserted.

It has failed to set policy or communicate well, said the official, who described the council as being “inept” at reaching Iraqis.

Mr Bremer warned the council last week that the December 15 deadline for drawing up the constitution and elections was non-negotiable.

Interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said that Iraq would meet the looming deadlines.

“The ball lands in our court and we must deliver,” Mr Zebari said.

But he also warned: “A great deal will depend on the security situation in the country.”

PM unveils new War Memorial in London

More than 100-thousand Australians, who gave their lives fighting alongside British troops are named in a new memorial in London’s Hyde Park unveiled on the 85th Anniversary of the end of World War One.

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Prime Minister John Howard said the memorial was a warning to anyone wanting to undermine world peace.

“History’s lessons is that evil will always dwell within the world, in the past represented by armies rolling across national borders, in this new century finding form in acts of indiscriminate terrorism inspired by distorted faith.”

Queen Elizabeth said the memorial would stand as a permanent record of their sacrifice.

“All who pass by will be reminded of the immense contribution made by Australians to final victory. I hope it will also reminder future generations of Australians who come to visit London that the support of their predecessors in those critical days will always be remembered here with respect and thankfulness.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was a lasting memorial to the friendship between the two countries.

He said the memorial would ensure that no-one would forget the unique link between Australia and Britain.

“It is also a physical sign of our shared commitment to stand together still to defend our two countries still in times of conflict. The world, thankfully has moved on from those two terrible conflicts, but the bonds and friendship between our two countries remains as strong as ever.”

Joining a crowd of about 3,000 at the dedication were a group of 28 World War II veterans who made the trip from Australia to honour friends who hadn’t come home.

The project cost the Australian government 9 million dollars and followed Westminster Council’s instructions not to include statues of soldiers.

Kirkuk gas pipeline sabotaged

An explosion on a major gas pipeline near Iraq’s northern oil centre, Kirkuk, has crippled production at the country’s newest and largest oil refinery.

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An explosive device has been confirmed as the cause of the blast that created a massive fire visible from 30 kilometres away.

The blast has left Baiji refinery without sufficient power to maintain its normal production of up to 300,000 barrels of oil per day.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, two US soldiers were killed in Mosul, northern Iraq.

The two soldiers belonging to the 101st Airborne Division were on patrol in the city when they were attacked.

There are conflicting reports as to how the men were killed.

Eyewitnesses have claimed the two soldiers were ambushed in a vehicle and had their throats slit.

A US military statement said they were “shot while en route from one compound to another in the city”, while not specifying if the men died from gunshot wounds.

A military investigation will be carried out.

When questioned about the deaths, coalition military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said it would be “ghoulish” and inappropriate to discuss the matter.

“In the interest of the families and with respect to human dignity, there will be no further elaboration on this incident pending notification of next of kin and completion of the investigation,” he said.

Two American Democrats senators, Tom Daschle and Joseph Biden, have responded to the latest deaths in Iraq with calls for more US troops to be deployed.

Zimbabwe’s Banana dies at 67

Zimbabwe’s first post-independence president and q key member of his country’s fight against colonial rule, Canaan Banana, has died.

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Mr Banana, 67, died from cancer after treatment in South African hospitals.

In a televised announcement, President Robert Mugabe described Mr Banana as “a rare gift to our nation”.

He mentioned the former Methodist minister’s bravery standing up to white racism in the 1970s and his political activism early in his career.

“For that he paid the price and had to endure repeated years in prison and solitary confinement. He never balked; he never compromised right up to 1980, the year of our Independence,” Mr Mugabe said.

Mr Banana was president from 1980 to 1987, but fell into disrepute after he left office.

In 1988, Zimbabwe was gripped by his trial, in which a string of ex-employees claimed Mr Banana had sexually abused them.

Witnesses described how Mr Banana had invited them into his library where they played cards, had drinks and listened to music.

Mr Banana denied the charges as a “malicious vendetta” and politically motivated, but was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years jail, nine of which were suspended.

Canaan Banana was vice president of the African National Council (ANC) in Rhodesia, before becoming president when it was a largely ceremonial post.

In 1987 Mr Banana ceded the presidency to the then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who became the executive leader.

Although he largely stayed out of the public limelight after leaving prison, Mr Banana became involved in public debates where he bemoaned the political crisis, which has wreaked Zimbabwe since the late 1990s.

World condemns Saudi bombing

United States President George W Bush Sunday phoned Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to express condolences and pledge support in fighting terrorism.

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Saudi authorities believe the attack in an affluent area of the capital Riyadh has the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operation.

The attackers exchanged gunfire with security guards before driving into the compound in a police car and detonating a device. The bombers died in the explosion.

The country’s Interior Minister Prince Nayef who has visited the scene of the blast, vowed to “get the perpetrators no matter how long it takes.”

“No mercy or pity should be felt for anyone thinking of carrying out such acts,” he said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has sent a message of sympathy to Saudi King Fahd Ibn Abdul-Aziz.

He also pledged China’s support in the war on terrorism.

Canada, Pakistan and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan joined others in condemning the attack in the strongest terms.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Richard Armitage has flown in from Iraq to discuss the war on terrorism with Saudi officials. He said al-Qaeda’s objective was to bring down the Saudi government and “to create fear and spread terror.”

Most of the casualties were Arabs, prompting the Arab League, which has 22 member states, to denounce the bombing as a “terrorist and criminal” act.

Scores of Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians and other Arabs were wounded. Americans and Canadians, most of them of Arab descent, were also listed among the wounded.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa said such acts as the bombing “only aim to destabilise, terrify and kill” innocent people.

He added the attack had not taken into account the sacred nature of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The explosion came a day after the United States shut its diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia after “credible evidence” of a threat and the UK embassy in Bahrain issued a similar warning.

The US warned its embassy staff in the Saudi capital to stay at home on Sunday pending “further assessment of the security situation”.

Residents of the compound are returning in trickles to salvage mementos, clothes, passports and other personal items.

It’s reported that an Interior Ministry official said the attack was similar in style to a series of car bombings on May 12th on three Riyadh compounds housing foreigners.

Those attacks, which were blamed on al-Qaeda, killed 35 people, including nine suicide bombers.

Police make progress on Turkish blasts

This comes as al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a message to a Saudi newspaper.

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The terrorist network also threatened the United States and Japan with “new operations”.

The US and Britain have also warned of further attacks, and many countries have increased security at sensitive sites.

“We have obtained very important clues and documents,” said Turkey’s Justice Minister Cemil Cicek.

“We have reached a certain point in our investigation, but this is a very complicated case. It has foreign ties and extensions.”

He has called on international cooperation to help Turkish police in their deliberations.

Seven people were detained on Friday in connection with the attacks, however no further information was given.

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet has also reported that police had identified the suicide bombers as two Turkish nationals.

Police have now issued a media blackout on the investigation, to prevent the publishing of any material that may prejudice the inquiry.

The death count has now reached 30, and at least 450 injured in the bomb attacks on the British Consulate and the HSBC bank in Istanbul. Five days earlier, car bomb attacks on two synagogues in the city killed 25.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has condemned the bombings.

“The Palestinian people and I condemn the abject crimes which we reject, and we send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of these terrorist acts and to the British government,” said Mr Arafat in a message to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Meanwhile European Union leaders have insisted that the blasts will not impact Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU.

Yukos shares frozen in Russia

Shares in one of Russia’s biggest oil companies have been frozen by prosecutors investigating fraud allegations against its chief executive.

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The Moscow stock market suffered its second nosedive in a week on the back of the announcement.

The market’s sharp reaction appeared to reflect investor fears that a probe of Yukos that began in July could foretell troubles for Russia’s biggest companies.

The freeze on 44 percent of Yukos shares came as Russian news agencies reported President Vladimir Putin had signed an order relieving Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin from duty.

Rumours that Mr Voloshin had resigned had rattled Russian political and business circles for several days.

Mr Voloshin reportedly tendered his resignation after Saturday’s arrest and jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of the Russian oil giant Yukos.

The arrest has been widely seen as an action staged by some of President Putin’s top lieutenants to avenge the tycoon’s political activities, which include funding of opposition parties.

Mr Voloshin, 47, held the third ranking post in the Russian hierarchy and was seen as an advocate of liberal reform and big business interests.

The prosecutor general’s office said it had sequestered 44.1 percent of shares in Yukos owned by its holding company, but denied the aim was to strip Mr Khodorkovsky of his dominant stake in Russia’s largest oil producer.

Mr Putin met top Western investors in Russia for more than 90 minutes in the Kremlin to assure them that he was keen to protect investor rights, and that an investigation into Yukos did not mean that the government was out to get big business.

Hezbollah prisoner swap on the cards

“On Sunday, the government will have to take difficult decisions with a painful price involved but these decisions are necessary to save lives,” Mr Sharon said, referring to the day when the exchange deal will be put before ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.

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Mr Sharon stressed the government’s need to address the hostage issue.

“We know who these murderous organisations are … Thus, given the special danger facing the lives of those who are in the hands of terrorists, whether civilians or soldiers, the government of Israel cannot run away from giving an answer,” he said.

Mr Sharon faces a major battle to persuade fellow ministers to back the prisoner exchange.

Under terms of the deal, Israel is likely to secure the release of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three soldiers in exchange for the freedom of a number of Hezbollah figures – reportedly 19 – and hundreds of Palestinians.

Media reports said the deal involved 400 Palestinians and 19 Hezbollah members.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership was still wrestling over the formation of a new government, with Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei struggling to persuade veteran leader Yasser Arafat to accept his choice of interior minister.

The central committee of the mainstream Fatah movement met again on Thursday in the West Bank town of Ramallah but failed to break the deadlock.

The stalemate is holding up renewal of high-level contacts with Israel and could derail a conference of international donors who have been supporting the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

And as violence continues, three Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Thursday.

Residents of the village of Almusader in central Gaza say Israeli special forces entered a home and killed a gunman in an exchange of fire.

A few hours earlier, two Palestinians were killed and nine wounded, including two women, in an exchange of fire between armed Palestinians and Israeli soldiers on the outskirts of the city of Khan Younis

Suicide theory over Turkish attack

At least 23 people are now known to have died in the attacks, which have been linked to al-Qaeda.

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More than 300 people were injured and about 70 of them remain in hospital.

Six of the dead were identified as Jews, one of them an eight-year-old girl, with most of the other victims Muslim passers-by and at least one policeman.

Turkish and Israeli experts are working together on the investigation, but th Arab newspaper Al-Qods Al-Arabi says it has received a claim of responsibility from al-Qaeda.

Hundreds of Turks have left flowers outside the synagogues wrecked in the bombings – it is believed as many as 400 kilograms of homemade explosives were used.

Israel’s foreign minister Silvan Shalom has visited the site, while Turkey’s Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for justice.

As a sign of the close ties between the Jewish-state and Turkey, Israeli secret agents have been assisting investigations, combing the city looking for clues to the identity of the bombers.

“I am sure the Turkish government will do everything to find out who is behind the attacks and bring them to trial in a short time,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters in Istanbul, where he laid wreathes to honour the dead.

The bombings were the latest in a series of strikes against Jewish targets, including suicide attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca in May that killed 45 and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya a year ago that left 18 dead.

NATO member Turkey has been Israel’s chief regional ally since 1996 when they struck a military cooperation accord, much to the anger of Arab countries and Iran.

Prince Felipe announces engagement

Crown Prince Felipe of Asturias and journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano became formally engaged on Thursday in a huge ceremony at Madrid’s La Zarzuela palace.

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Ms Ortiz, 31, and the 35-year-old prince surprised Spain over the weekend by announcing their engagement.

During the ceremony, a visibly happy King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia greeted the anchorwoman’s relatives, a middle class family from Asturias. The families then exchanged gifts: gold-and-sapphire cufflinks for him, a white gold and diamond-studded ring for her.

Some 300 journalists from 14 countries packed the ornate courtyard of another royal palace, El Pardo, later Thursday, as the fiancées appeared to show their gifts and answer press questions.

“The first time we met was just over a year ago,” Prince Felipe said. “But it was a casual encounter and nothing came of it.” He later added he plans to have between two and five children with Ortiz, who is “intelligent and has a great spirit of responsibility as well as courage”.

Ms Ortiz, dressed in a white suit, said the prince is “an exceptional human being, very sensible and a great reader, something which is very important to me”. She added she would stop working for TVE to assume duties in her new life.

The wedding will be next summer at the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid but no date has been announced.

Journalists have already started to offer huge amounts of money for the balconies facing the Almudena Cathedra, where the couple will marry.

A huge majority of Spaniards followed the TV broadcast of the engagement, with many expressing their satisfaction with the Prince’s choice.