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World in brief

Explosion near U.S. military camp in Philippines kills one

By wire services
Published February 19, 2006

JOLO, Philippines - A powerful explosion in a karaoke bar near a Philippine army camp killed one person and wounded about 20 Saturday on southern Jolo island, where American troops are staying for joint war exercises.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Zimmer, said there were no American casualties and that the explosion would not hamper the two-week joint counterterrorism maneuvers that are to start Monday and focus on humanitarian projects.

"The explosion last night was caused by a bomb made of ammonium nitrate," Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo, the top military officer on Jolo island, said Sunday. He said a Philippine driver working on contract for U.S. troops was killed and about 20 other people were wounded.

Security is a top concern during the exercises because of the presence of al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Jolo, about 580 miles south of Manila. The guerrillas have kidnapped Americans in the past and threatened to attack U.S. troops in the country.

About 250 American troops are to take part in an annual joint war exercise between American and Filipino troops that has focused in recent years on counterterrorism.

The exercises this year are being held simultaneously in Manila and a number of other venues, including on Jolo, where Americans would mainly provide dental treatment for poor villagers, construct classrooms and give away medicines and books, officials said.

Italian prosecutors plan to indict prime minister

ROME - Italian magistrates have finished an investigation into whether Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bribed a lawyer to give false testimony and plan to seek his indictment on corruption charges, a prosecutor said Friday.

Milan Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale said the prosecution rushed to wrap up the investigation and bring the case to trial after Parliament reduced the statute of limitations on the charges.

If no new evidence is raised during a 20-day period in which defense lawyers can make objections, the prosecution will ask a judge to indict the prime minister, De Pasquale said. Berlusconi declined to comment on the case during a news conference in Rome, but his lawyer said the investigation had been timed to hurt the prime minister ahead of April elections.

De Pasquale denied the timing was intended to coincide with the campaign, saying that based on the reform, the charges against Berlusconi would run out after 10 years instead of 15, in 2008. "The prosecution needs the trial to start as soon as possible," he said.

The prime minister is accused of ordering the payment of at least $600,000 to the British lawyer David Mills in 1997 to give false testimony in two trials against him.

President signs new constitution in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo - Congo's president signed the country's new postwar constitution on Saturday, paving the way for historic elections later this year.

The document replaces an interim constitution that laid the foundation for a transitional government that ruled the country since a 1998-2002 war that involved six neighboring nations.

The new constitution was approved during a December referendum. It grants greater autonomy to Congo's mineral-rich regions and lowers the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30, allowing an election bid by 34-year-old President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since his father's 2001 assassination.

The transitional government will remain until a June 30 deadline for elections, but officials and diplomats said it's unlikely to be met.

Diplomats urged Congo's Parliament to finally pass a delayed electoral law that must take effect before the election commission can officially schedule elections.

Congo's elections are seen as key to ending years of strife and bringing lasting stability to a nation that has known little but conflict, coups and dictatorship since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Before the December referendum, Congolese had not voted en masse since 1970, when the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko stood as the sole candidate. His reign ended in 1997 when Kabila's father, Laurent, swept to power at the head of a rebellion backed heavily by Rwandan troops. Parents of missing penguin hatch new chick

LONDON - The penguins who had their chick stolen just before Christmas have hatched another egg at a zoo in southern England, officials said Saturday.

Kyala and Oscar's unnamed chick was born Tuesday, and its sex was not yet known, zoo owner Derek Curtis said.

Three-month-old Toga disappeared in mid December from the Amazon World zoo on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast.

Despite scores of reported sightings and a confession from a man who called a TV station to admit to stealing the bird, Toga was not been found. Experts said Toga is too young to survive without its parents.

Zoo officials have installed closed circuit television cameras and motion sensors to make sure that Toga's sibling remains safely with his parents, who are a rare breed of penguin found on the southern coast of Africa.

Tibetans heed call from Dalai Lama to burn pelts

DHARMSALA, India - Thousands of Tibetans have burned rare animal pelts and skins in response to a call by the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader, to give up products made from endangered animals, Tibetan exiles said Friday.

Coats trimmed with fur from tigers, leopards, otters and other rare animals recently became stylish in Tibet, prompting warnings from environmental groups of the damage to wild populations.

The Chinese government reportedly banned the burnings this month and, according to an Indian animal rights group, arrested nine people for "public unrest and colluding with the Dalai Lama."

An estimated $75-million worth of animal skins have been burned in the eastern Tibet alone, said Lobsang Choephal, a 35-year-old monk who smuggled video footage of the burning out of Tibet.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:10:11]

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