Three more Iraqi towns were cleared by advancing US troops south of Baghdad as they pushed to their closest point yet to the capital. About 100 Iraqis were killed in a firefight, and dozens more were taken prisoner. But a defiant Foreign Minister Naji Sabri insisted that American and British forces "surrender and withdraw" or "we will turn our deserts into a big graveyard" for them. A Marine unit entering the town of Shatra met a rare welcome by residents, who had looted the local Baath Party headquarters.

Elsewhere in war-related developments:

• The first visits to Iraqi prisoners of war were announced by the Red Cross. A spokesman said the organization did not know when it might be allowed access to US and British prisoners held by Iraq - a requirement of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

• Led by France and Indonesia, governments opposed to the war demanded that UN inspectors verify any discoveries of weapons of mass destructions claimed by coalition forces. A French official said his government did not mistrust the US or Britain but wanted "to ensure that the major role is played by the international community."

• Iraqi TV resumed broadcasting Monday, four hours later than usual - a delay believed to be caused by bomb damage. Saddam Hussein and his two sons were shown together for the first time since the war began, although it wasn't clear whether the footage was new.

Two senior leaders of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan were captured in a security sweep of southern Kanda- har province. They were identified as the ex-trade minister and ex-deputy education minister. Their arrests came amid what a US military spokesman called "an uptick" in rebel activity since the start of the war in Iraq. On Saturday, two American soldiers were killed in an ambush in another southern province, the first US combat casualties since December.

In a setback for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, two candidates from his ZANU-PF party went down to landslide defeats in Parliament in a byelection. Both races were in Harare, the capital, where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change holds all 19 seats. ZANU-PF victories would have put the party within three seats of the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the Constitution in any way Mugabe wishes without being blocked.

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