World

Saying, "Obviously, I hope it's true," a US military spokesman in Iraq declined further comment on reports that Al Qaeda chief Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been killed in a confrontation with other Sunni militants north of Baghdad. Iraq's chief government spokesman also wouldn't confirm the reports, but the Interior Ministry said it had "definite intelligence" on his death. Masri assumed leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq after US forces killed his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, last June. Previous reports that Masri had been killed or wounded have proved false.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected all calls for his resignation, following an official report harshly critical of his handling of last summer's war with Hizbullah. Analysts said Olmert appears secure for the moment because others in his government are unwilling to risk their own jobs by submitting to a new national election. But in a sign of a possible crack in the ruling coalition, Cabinet minister Eitan Cabel quit in protest. Cabel is a member of the Labor Party, Olmert's key coalition partner.

Seventy-five more suspected Taliban fighters were killed and "several" others were captured in fighting with NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, an alliance spokesman said Tuesday. The claim couldn't be verified immediately. But, if accurate, it would represent the third significant loss in less than a week for the Taliban, which has vowed a major offensive of its own this spring. On Monday, NATO said it had killed 136 Taliban militants.

Communists in Nepal's government refused to comment on reports of an armed attack by hundreds of former rebels on a rural police post. The incident was the first of its type since the rebels joined the ruling coalition last month. The reports said the police weapons were stolen and all 11 officers stationed there were abducted, although most were freed later. On Monday, UN officials complained that the rebels aren't fulfilling their obligations under the peace accord, which calls for handing in their weapons and reporting to special holding areas under international supervision.

An American and four Italians were believed to be among six foreign nationals taken hostage early Tuesday when gunmen attacked a tanker operated by oil giant Chevron Corp. off the coast of Nigeria. A Nigerian sailor died in the raid. Chevron halted operations in the area after the attack, reports said.

For the first time in 30 years, the combatants in the fight for control of Western Sahara have agreed to negotiations, the UN said Monday. Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front both have offered proposals for the future of the phosphate-rich territory, whose high unemployment rate makes it a fertile recruiting ground for terrorist groups.

Thirty billion dollars worth of foreign oil operations in Venezuela reverted to government control Tuesday under leftist President Hugo Chávez's nationalization program. If the companies involved – Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips of the US, Total of France, Statoil of Norway, and Britain's BP – are compensated, it will be only on the book value of the operations rather than their current net worth, reports said. Chávezalso announced that he'll cut ties with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund "before they go and rob us."

The largest seizure of narcotics in Colombian history – 27 tons of cocaine valued at a half-billion dollars – was announced by the Defense Ministry Monday. It said the drugs were wrapped in 55-pound packages in a site accessible only by water. No arrests were involved, the ministry said, but the cache is suspected of having been the property of the Norte del Valle cartel, Colombia's No. 1 trafficker.

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