World

Iraq's most feared terror chief declared a "fierce war" on democracy in an audio recording posted Sunday on the Web. A speaker claiming to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, railed against democracy for supplanting the rule of God with the rule of man and the majority, saying it was based on "un-Islamic" beliefs and behaviors, including freedom of religion and freedom of expression. He accused the Americans of engineering the election to install Shiite Muslims and claimed that 4 million Shiite Muslims were brought from Iran to skew the vote, which threatens to sideline Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims, who were in power under Saddam Hussein.

In a sign of Iraqi insurgents' confidence, a group beheaded an Iraqi soldier in broad daylight in the restive rebel town of Ramadi on Friday. The Iraqi government pledged Saturday it would do everything in its power to protect voters from insurgent attacks during this month's national elections.

Protesters who had blockaded a key highway in southern Russia for three days agreed to dismantle their tents and leave, according to a Kremlin envoy who said Saturday he'd spoken by phone to the protesters - distraught relatives of children killed in last year's Beslan school massacre. Many relatives are incensed at regional authorities for failing to avert the attack on the elementary school, where a terrorist seizure left more than 300 of 1,000 hostages dead. The envoy pledged to visit the area Tuesday.

President Bush placed a call to Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko on Saturday to congratulate him on his election and on "democracy's victory" in Ukraine, a White House spokesman said. Secretary of State Powell was slated to represent the US at Yushchenko's Sunday inauguration.

UN delegates adopted an action plan to reduce casualties and damage caused by natural disasters Saturday at the close of a conference in Kobe, Japan. The plan, however, fell short of setting targets or spelling out ways to assess progress. Meanwhile, a tsunami victim was rescued after surviving alone for 25 days on an island in India's Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.

Georgians living in the breakaway region of South Ossetia abducted 12 Ossetians on Saturday in retaliation for the seizure of two Georgian police officers. About 500 Georgians rallied in Ergneti and warned that they would not release their captives until the officers were freed. Georgian officials said the two officers were seized Jan. 19 by separatist fighters.

Muslim pilgrims performed final rites of the hajj on Saturday, with many praising Saudi safety measures for averting violence, including possible Al Qaeda strikes. More than 2.5 million people took part in the hajj.

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