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Convert flees threats, receives asylum in Italy

Associated Press
Published March 30, 2006

ROME - The Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity received asylum in Italy Wednesday, despite requests by lawmakers in Afghanistan that he be barred from fleeing the conservative Muslim country.

Abdul Rahman arrived in Rome days after he was freed from a high-security prison on the outskirts of Kabul after a court dropped charges of apostasy against him for lack of evidence and suspected mental illness.

The case has attracted wide attention in the West and led to calls by the U.S. and other governments for the Afghan government to protect the 41-year-old convert.

It also inspired an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and efforts by the United Nations to find a country to take him in after Muslim clerics in Afghanistan threatened his life, saying his conversion was a "betrayal to Islam."

Rahman was in the care of Italy's Interior Ministry, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday evening. "He is already in Italy," he said.

End nuclear plan, U.N. Security Council tells Iran

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council demanded Wednesday that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, the first time the powerful body has directly urged Tehran to clear up suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Iran was defiant, maintaining its right to nuclear power but insisting that it was committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and had no intention of seeking weapons of mass destruction.

"Pressure and threats does not work with Iran. Iran is a country that is allergic to pressure and to threats and intimidation," Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif said.

The 15-nation council unanimously approved a statement that will ask the U.N. nuclear dog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to report back in 30 days on Iran's compliance with demands to stop enriching uranium.

Diplomats portrayed the statement, which is not legally binding, as a first, modest step toward compelling Iran to make clear that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Bush joining spring breakers in Cancun

CANCUN, Mexico - College students looking for fun over spring break are going to have some heavy company in this Mexican resort. President Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada are meeting today and Friday, bringing portfolios of problems, gun-toting security agents and traffic-clogging motorcades.

Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will grapple with issues like trade, terrorism and border and immigration problems. The beachfront is still rebounding from last year's Hurricane Wilma, and Mexican officials hope the attention from the summit will help boost tourism again.

Russian rocket lifts off for space station

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - A Russian Soyuz rocket streaked into the skies over the Central Asian steppe today, launching a U.S.-Russian-Brazilian crew on a mission to the international space station.

Russian Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeffrey Williams were to stay on board the station for about six months. Brazil's first man in space, Marcos C. Pontes, will stay at the station for nine days before returning to Earth on April 9 with the station's current crew of Russian Valery Tokarev and American Bill McArthur.

Pontes promised Wednesday to make his country proud with its first space flight and pledged to take both a flag and a soccer jersey into orbit in hopes it would bring his country's team victory in the World Cup.

[Last modified March 30, 2006, 02:15:33]

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