World

In the latest sign of improved relations with rival India, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf met with visiting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The talks, which took place on the sidelines of a regional summit in Islamabad and marked their first direct contact in more than two years, were expected to focus on disputed Kashmir. Musharraf declared a cease-fire along the often restive border in November that analysts credit with paving the way for Vajpayee's trip.

A new audiotape purportedly of Osama bin Laden is probably authentic, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC, a view seconded by US Homeland Security Secretary Ridge. The tape, broadcast Sunday by the Qatar-based satellite-TV network Al Jazeera, mentions the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - meaning it was made after Dec. 13. It also blasts Persian Gulf states that have established relations with the US-backed Governing Council and urges Muslims "to liberate the Islamic world from the military occupation." In the southern Iraqi city of Basra, meanwhile, protesters angry at widespread unemployment clashed with police a day after a visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Signaling a possible breakthrough for the peace process in Burundi, a key Hutu extremist group agreed to informal talks with President Domitien Ndayizeye. The National Liberation (FNL) was the lone holdout when three other rebel factions signed a cease-fire with the government in December 2002. An estimated 300,000 people have died in the tiny Central African nation during a 10-year ethnic conflict between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

Colombia celebrated the capture of a senior leftist rebel leader, who was handed over to authorities there after being detained in neighboring Quito, Ecuador, Friday. Ricardo Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad, is a commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the nation's largest rebel group, and was a top negotiator at peace talks with the government that broke down in February 2002.

China's Health Ministry confirmed the first case of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, since an outbreak was contained in July. The patient was identified as a television producer in the southern province of Guangdong. As a precaution, authorities there ordered the destruction of 10,000 civet cats, a local delicacy whose consumption has been linked to the spread of the illness.

Iranian officials are considering moving the capital from Tehran after the earthquake that flattened the city of Bam. Hassan Rohani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told the Hayat-e No newspaper that the council would take up the matter shortly. More than 30,000 people died in the Dec. 13 quake and Iranian scientists have warned that one of similar strength in seismically active Tehran could claim more than twice that number.

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