A lawyer for Saddam Hussein confirmed that a farewell letter written to the Iraqi people from the country's ousted leader and posted Wednesday on the website of Hussein's former Baath Party is authentic. In it, Hussein, who has been sentenced to death for ordering the 1982 killings of 148 Shiite Muslims, urged Iraqis "not to hate the people of other countries that attacked us," but to be patient in fighting "against the unjust nations." Meanwhile, Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace Department, cited the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to the death penalty in saying he hopes that Hussein's life will be spared.

Nearly 3 million white-robed Muslims marched Thursday through a Saudi Arabian desert valley outside Mecca on the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Saudi authorities estimate that 1.6 Muslims from abroad are participating in five days of hajj rituals at Islam's holiest site, which is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has previously rejected offers to negotiate with Syria, citing that country's support of anti-Israel militant groups, said Thursday that he is open to "any murmur of peace" from Israel's Arab enemies. There was no immediate reaction from Syria.

Brazilian drug-gang violence spilled onto the streets of Rio de Janeiro, leaving 18 people dead Thursday and more than 20 injured as gangs set fire to buses and opened fire on police stations. Police were credited with preventing greater violence, such as that seen in Sao Paulo in May, when similar attacks left 200 dead.

A suspected hijacker on a Russian Aeroflot airliner who reportedly carried an explosive device was "pacified" before police arrived Thursday at Prague's airport, where the plane made an unscheduled landing. The suspect, a Russian citizen traveling with eight uninvolved family members, had demanded the plane, en route from Moscow to Geneva, be flown to Cairo. Authorities said they don't suspect terrorism, but did not provide details of a possible motive.

A Malaysian women's rights group said Thursday that it will conduct possibly the most comprehensive survey ever on polygamy in a Muslim society. The group, which wants to prove their claims that the practice throws families into emotional and economic turmoil, plans to interview 6,000 members of polygamous families during the next 10 months. Islam allows a man up to four wives. Government statistics indicate that only 1.4 percent of Malayasia's Muslim marriages are polygamous, but activists believe many are not reported.

For the second time in three days, a fuel pipeline in a poor neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria, exploded. There was no immediate word Thursday on casualties. An earlier blast, which occurred as scavengers tried to collect spilled fuel from a conduit, killed 265 people.

After walking and skiing 1,740 miles, sometimes in temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero F., Capt. Sean Chapple and a small British military contingent reached the South Pole Wednesday. They became the first British troops to accomplish the feat since 1912, when Capt. Robert Scott led a four-member team to the pole, only to perish from starvation and exposure upon their return. Chapple's team plans on returning after spending several days at a nearby research station.

On Thursday, two days after a 6.7-magnitude earthquake off Taiwan's coast caused a massive telecommunications outage, most Asian phone and Internet service was restored.

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