World

Iraqi dissidents claiming they want to liberate "our beloved fatherland" seized the nation's embassy in Germany, which was surrounded by police as the Monitor went to press. They were holding an unspecified number of people hostage; two others reportedly were hurt by pepper spray. The main opposition group, the London-based Iraqi National Congress, disavowed involvement in – or knowledge of – the incident. The seizure came as senior government officials in Iraq took journalists on a tour of a site suspected by the US as a biological weapons facility. But Trade Minister Mohamad Mehdi Saleh maintained it is a food warehouse.

Dozens of Palestinian police rolled into Bethlehem in the West Bank to take over security responsibilities left behind by departing Israeli forces. The transfer is part of what's seen as a test case for a lasting cease-fire between the two sides. But its fragility was quickly threatened as Hamas claimed responsibility for a sniper attack that killed an Israeli soldier guarding a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

A discarded rocket launcher was found near the site of a downed Russian transport helicopter whose crash Monday in Chechnya killed at least 114 soldiers. The discovery appeared to give some credibility to Chechen rebel claims that they shot down the aircraft. An investigation was ordered by President Vladimir Putin, and the general who supervises the Air Force was suspended pending its outcome.

Led by Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature, environmental groups blasted President Bush's decision to skip next week's Earth Summit in South Africa and suggested US voters would punish his party for it in the November election. Meanwhile, air quality remained above hazardous levels across much of southeast Asia from hundreds of "out of control" fires set by farmers on the Indonesian island of Borneo as a cheap way of clearing land for the planting season.

"For the good of the church," the leader of Australia's Roman Catholics took an indefinite leave of absence while an investigation into whether he once molested a 12-year-old boy proceeds. But Archbishop George Pell of Sydney called the allegation "a smear of the most vindictive kind" and predicted his name would be cleared.

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