The Sunni bloc with the largest representation in Iraq's parliament walked out Sunday and said it was suspending participation until a kidnaped colleague was released. The Iraqi Accordance Front called on other legislators to join its boycott, accusing the authorities in charge of security of failing to prevent the seizure of Tayseer al-Mashhandani and seven bodyguards. They disappeared after being stopped at a checkpoint in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad not far from the scene of a car bomb attack Saturday that killed at least 66 people and wounded almost 100 others. That attack was the worst since Iraq's unity government took office six weeks ago.
A once-powerful warlord in Somalia surrendered hundreds of weapons – among them machine guns and mortars – to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) Saturday, further consolidating the latter's takeover of the Horn of Africa country. Omar Finnish also put members of his militia under the ICU's leadership, saying he was doing so at the request of "our traditional and religious elders." Analysts said the clan militias that until recently had fought for control of the capital no longer pose much of a threat to the ICU's expanding control. But Somalia remains tense because the ICU and the interim – and weak – government have yet to resume talks on their future relationship.
Two people were killed and more than 200 others were hurt Sunday in new clashes between police and thousands of demonstrators organized by Bangla- desh's political opposition. The worst of the violence took place in Dhaka, the capital, and in a neighboring town, where a policeman died after being hit by thrown bricks. In other areas, protesters sat on railroad tracks to block trains and also prevented intercity buses from traveling. The opposition is seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, a central role in a caretaker government after her departure, and an early national election. The prime minister has vowed to stay in power until her term ends in October.
Police and organizers disagreed sharply on their estimates of the turnout Saturday for a march demanding full democracy in Hong Kong. But even at the higher figure – 58,000 – it was far smaller than the turnout of a half-million people in both 2003 and 2004. The demonstration is held annually on the anniversary of China's 1997 takeover of the former British colony. At the time, the communist government in Beijing promised Hong Kongers broad autonomy under the principle of "one country, two systems." It has since ruled out full democracy until further notice. Analysts said the small turnout was largely due to improved economic conditions.
Featuring pressurized coaches because of altitudes as high as 16,400 feet, the first train from Beijing to Tibet was on schedule for arrival at its final destination Monday – an event that proponents hail with pride but critics say will dilute the unique Tibetan Buddhist culture. China spent $4.2 billion building the line as part of a strategy to bind its underdeveloped and restive western provinces more closely to those in the economically booming east. End-to-end, at an average speed of 75 m.p.h., the trip was projected to take 48 hours.
Authorities in Moscow ended the last controls on the ruble, making it fully convertible and allowing Russians to open foreign bank accounts. The move came Saturday, but its first effects won't be felt until Monday as currency markets open for the week. President Vladimir Putin had set July 1 as the deadline for the move so it would be in place by the opening of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg. Last Thursday, his Cabinet OK'd the necessary draft legislation, which still must be passed by parliament, although that is considered a mere formality. The ruble has an 800-year history. It currently trades at a 27-to-1 ratio against the US dollar.