US marines were in control of central Najaf, Iraq, pounding fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and storming his residence. But early reports said Sadr was believed to be at the Imam Ali Mosque, where many of his loyalists were holed up. The shrine, one of the holiest in Shia Islam, was blocked by the Americans, but they were not attacking it. The US offensive drew vehement objections from Iran and Iraq's Arab neighbors, but analysts said it was significant that the top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had left the country as the so-called fight to the finish began in Najaf.

"Valuable targets" were among five more Al Qaeda suspects arrested in Pakistan, senior authorities said. Those deemed of special interest were "foreigners," but their identities and nationalities were not disclosed and it was not clear whether any are on the FBI's most-wanted list. The latest arrests bring to 30 the number of suspected terrorists detained in Pakistan over the past month, among them two whose computers have yielded crucial information on prospective Al Qaeda targets in the US and Britain.

Amid massive security precautions and after months of uncertainty that all venues would be ready in time, the 25th modern Olympics were set to open formally Friday. This will be the first time since 1896 that the Summer Games are being staged in Greece, the land of their origin but the smallest country to serve as host since Finland in 1952. Organizers said the two-week sports carnival may end up costing at least $7.3 billion.

Supporters of leftist President Hugo Chávez stoned an opposition campaign kiosk in Caracas, Venezuela, and roughed up a foreign news photographer as tensions mounted before Sunday's national referendum on his rule. They also fired handguns into the air to scare away passers-by interested in picking up leaflets at the kiosk that advocate an anti-Chávez vote. The referendum is aimed at ending more than two years of conflict between Chávez and his political opponents, who argue that he is dragging the nation into economic ruin.

With crude oil prices hovering in the $45-a-barrel range, Saudi authorities said they stood ready to raise production by as much as 1.3 million barrels a day immediately. The world's No. 1 producer currently pumps 9.3 million barrels a day. A senior adviser to Crown Prince Bandar bin Sultan told journalists Wednesday that his government's policy "is to maintain prices at a moderate level." He denied that the offer was intended to influence the US presidential election campaign, although the price of crude has become a key issue in it.

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