World

Fifteen British sailors and marines who were seized last week are "fit and well" and are being interrogated, Iran's Foreign Ministry said Monday. But a spokesman denied suggestions that they were captured only to be traded for five Iranians being detained by US forces in Iraq. The spokesman bluntly rejected British claims that the men were outside Iranian waters when they were seized.

With varying degrees of caution, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Palestinians endorsed the idea of a new regional peace conference, even though plans still are in an early stage. The impetus came Monday as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon were in the Middle East for consultations with Israeli and Arab leaders. Last weekend, Saudi officials said there could be no modification of their proposed initiative – in which Israel would trade land for formal recognition by its Arab neighbors. On Monday, however, they said "new developments ... require additions" to the proposal that Arab leaders would be willing to consider.

Thousands of protesters rallied Monday in cities across Pakis- tan to show their anger at the suspension of the nation's top judge by President Pervez Musharraf. The demonstrations, adding to Musharraf's most serious political challenge so far, were called by exiled former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. But the turn-out (some of it above) appeared not to have met expectations, in part because of the preemptive arrests of hundreds of members of their two parties. Accusations against the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, are to be heard by a judicial panel next Tuesday.

Three Air Force personnel were killed and 16 others were hurt when Tamil separatist rebels conducted an airstrike on their main base north of Sri Lanka's capital early Monday. The attack was the first of its kind by the rebels, and analysts said it appeared to have taken the armed forces by surprise and exposed the vulnerability of their air- defense system. The rebels have smuggled in as many as four small, propeller-driven planes piece by piece aboard ships and reassembled them, the analysts said. Above, a photo from a rebel website shows one plane with the pilot's features blurred.

Sixteen "large and unproductive" farms in Venezuela have been seized by the government and will be used "to satisfy the needs of the people," President Hugo Chávez said Sunday night. With his government's socialist agenda "advancing quickly," he said 13 more farms will be confiscated soon because "It's property that belongs to everyone." The government already has nationalized the electricity sector, the largest telecommunications company, and some of the oil and natural gas industry.

In wet, chilly weather, voters across Quebec went to the polls Monday to choose a new government that will determine whether there's another referendum on separating from the rest of Canada. Late opinion surveys indicated the outcome could be the closest in provincial history, due to a conservative third party with the potential to drain votes away from the Liberals and the separatist-minded Partí Quebeçois (PQ). PQ leaders have vowed to hold a new referendum on separation as soon as possible if their party wins.

The winner of the runoff election for president in Mauritania is technocrat and former cabinet minister Sidi Mohammad Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the Interior Ministry said. It said he won 53 percent of Sunday's vote, compared with 47 percent for rival Ahmed Ould Daddah. The military, which seized power in 2005, pledged not to interfere in the outcome. Abdallahi's inauguration April 19 will be the first transfer of power via election since independence in 1960.

Bowing to critics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered a new apology Monday for Japan's use of women as sex slaves during World War II. But he stopped short of meeting demands that he admit the military had forced females – mostly from China and Korea – into brothels and kept them against their will.

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