USA news in brief

Compiled from wire service reports by Monitor staff.

The US will be made to "regret" the detention of five Iranians in Iraq since January, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday, demanding their release "as soon as possible." Iran's government calls the five diplomats; the US military has said they're suspected of helping to funnel weapons to Iraqi militants. Mottaki did not directly link their case to that of four Iranian-Americans being held in Tehran on suspicion of acting against national security. But Iran's Justice Ministry said a decision on whether to indict them will be announced in two to three days.

Polling places were closing across Israel in the critical runoff election for leadership of the Labor Party, the main partner in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government. One late opinion survey predicted victory for ex-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who won the first round of voting last month. But another poll found Barak and challenger Ami Ayalon, Israel's former intelligence chief, in a statistical tie.

Saying, "We want peace and we are ready for negotiations," the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) declared a unilateral cease-fire with Turkey. It pledged no further attacks against Turkish targets "other than for self-defense" and urged the government in Ankara to end hostilities, especially with a national election scheduled for next month. The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy for more than two decades and is blamed for the deaths of dozens of government troops and village guards since early May. Last week, there were reports of a heavy Turkish military buildup along the border with Iraq, where the PKK maintains bases.

Thirteen hostages – three of them Americans – were set free Tuesday in Nigeria's oil delta, easing tension there as militants prepared for negotiations with new President Umaru YarAdua's government. YarAdua has pledged to address the militants' grievances – usually control over oil revenues, compensation for environmental damage, and massive infrastructure improvements – before resorting to a security crackdown. The release still leaves at least 20 foreign nationals in the militants' custody, the BBC reported.

A day after seizing $1.5 billion worth of his assets, Thailand's military-backed government said ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is "eligible" to return home and challenge the graft allegations against him. From exile, Thaksin said through his lawyer that he'd decide in the next few days when he might return. He was abroad last fall when the military seized power and warned him to stay away until after the national election planned for this December.

For atrocities committed as ethnic Serbs were setting up a breakaway state in Croatia, their former rebel leader was sentenced to 35 years in prison Tuesday. The UN war-crimes tribunal for the Balkans found Milan Martic guilty of murder, torture, deportation of non-Serbs, and 13 other offenses in the early 1990s. The justices said Martic had sought to carve out a "greater Serbia," over which he'd cede control to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Another day of relentless heavy rains worsened flooding in Chittagong, Bangladesh's port city, and raised the number of deaths nationwide to 130, authorities said. More than 50 other people were reported missing. Mudslides are common in the Chittagong area during monsoon season, but the rainfall levels have been the highest in seven years, and the authorities say they were unprepared for "such a huge tragedy."

Tense union leaders in Britain were awaiting word from Ford Motor Co. on whether it will put its Jaguar and Land Rover subsidiaries up for sale. The struggling US automaker has been selling assets to offset declining sales and profits and confirmed Tuesday that it's "reviewing" options for the two brands. Together, they account for 19,000 jobs in Britain.

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