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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn and Ross Atkin / March 26, 2004



Signs of a new backlash against Hamas and other radical groups for using children to carry terrorist bombs were emerging from within the ranks of Palestinians on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers prevented a 16-year-old Palestinian wearing a bomb from passing through a West Bank checkpoint Wednesday. Reports quoted a Gaza psychologist as saying of the incident, "Every Palestinian I spoke to today was appalled and disgusted, ashamed and angry." Meanwhile, 60 prominent intellectuals signed their names to a half-page advertisement in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper, calling for only peaceful protests against Israel's killing earlier this week of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin.

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The US and the government of Australia reacted with dismay to a campaign promise by the opposition Labor Party to withdraw all of the nation's troops from Iraq by Christmas. Australia is expected to hold a general election after midyear, and its participation in Iraq has been widely unpopular at home. Spain's incoming leadership made the same promise, and the terrorists claiming responsibility for the March 11 train bombings in Madrid have threatened to target other US allies in Iraq, notably Australia.

A group attempting to extort millions of dollars from the French government via bomb threats against the rail system said it is suspending its campaign until it can better hide the devices. The announcement by "AZF" came after a bomb was found Wednesday under tracks on the Paris-to-Basel, Switzerland, line - the second such discovery in five weeks. In letters to President Jacques Chirac and the Interior Ministry, the group said it would be back in touch and that if the money wasn't paid, "France will surpass" the casualties of the train bombings in Spain. Above, an inspector searches for explosives near the city of Lille.

A new political crisis erupted in troubled Ivory Coast as rebels and the main opposition party pulled out of the power-sharing government. They blamed an incident in which at least 16 people were reported killed by security forces for participating in demonstrations demanding faster implementation of the peace deal between the rebels and President Laurent Gbagbo's government.

A campaign to eradicate opium poppy and coca crops inside national parks via aerial spraying was suspended by Colombia's government under pressure from environmentalists. Authorities will try to destroy the crops by hand instead. Colombia has 49 such parks, and an estimated 11,100 acres of them are planted in coca, from which cocaine is made. Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and a key supplier of heroin.

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