World

With Vice President Cheney looking on from the front row, members of the first freely elected Afghan parliament in 32 years took their oath of office and heard an emotional address by Hamid Karzai, the nation's leader. The ceremony formally concluded the long transitional process that began after Afghanistan's liberation by US-led forces in December 2001. Karzai will hold the greatest powers, but the 249 legislators can pass laws and veto his cabinet nominees. Their early priorities are expected to be security issues and social and economic stability.

The kidnappers of archaeologist and aid worker Susanne Osthoff freed her unharmed late Sunday after three weeks in captivity. "It is to be assumed that she will leave Iraq in the very near future," a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said, but a return to her homeland did not appear imminent. There was no confirmation that the Iraqi driver who was seized with her Nov. 25 also had been freed, although his release reportedly had been promised. At the same time, the extremist Islamic Army of Iraq posted a video on the Internet purportedly showing the execution of American Ronald Schulz, a civilian consultant who was kidnapped earlier this month. It could not be confirmed that the victim, who was seen being shot from behind while kneeling, was Schulz, although the footage also showed his identity card.

The first results from the election for a full-time parliament in Iraq showed the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance with 58 percent of the vote in Baghdad Province, the nation's largest. The electoral commission said the UIA won 1.4 million votes, compared to the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Party's 452,000. The party of former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was third, with 327,000 votes. Baghdad is allotted 59 of parliament's 275 seats. Against that backdrop, the government's decision to raise gasoline, heating oil, and cooking fuel prices at least fivefold triggered angry protests across Iraq and brought a resignation threat from Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum. The government also released 24 former senior officials of Saddam Hussein's regime from prison, among them noted biological weapons expert Rihad Taha, who is widely called "Dr. Germ." A lawyer for the detainees said some of his clients already had left Iraq.

His doctors said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was not permanently impaired by the mild stroke that caused him to be rushed to a hospital in Jeru-salem late Sunday. But they ordered a day of rest before his release, saying "he won't get any" afterward because of his formation of a new political party to contest next year's national election. Despite his own political problems, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas quickly sent a get-well message, and aides said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss what effect Sharon's health might have on the eventual resumption of peace efforts. News of his illness, however, touched off celebrations among other Palestinians, who fired rifles into the air and passed out sweets, a traditional expression of happiness.

Communist rebels killed eight police officers, wounded nine others, and forced at least 30 more at gunpoint into the jungle of northwestern Colombia in one of the heaviest blows against government security forces in years. The casualties came in a raid Saturday by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas on a remote outpost as President Alvaro Uribe awaited a response from the group to his offer of peace negotiations in exchange for a pullback of forces. According to one theory, the new captives could be added to 63 others known to be held by FARC, which wants to swap them for its members who are in prisons.

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