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5/22/2006 World News: Blair Sees "New Beginning" in Iraq


Iraq: British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Iraq's national unity government presents a new beginning for the war-torn nation.
Mr. Blair spoke on Monday in Baghdad after talks with government officials during a surprise visit to show support Iraq's new leadership.

The British prime minister told a news conference the conflict in Iraq was longer and harder than expected. He said the establishment of a unity government meant there was no longer any justification for armed insurgency.

Saddam Trial: The trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants accused of crimes against humanity resumed today (Monday) in Baghdad. Controversy immediately engulfed the proceedings when one of Saddam's defense attorneys was ejected after an argument with the judge (Rauf Abdel Rahman). Lebanese lawyer Bushra Khalil had just returned to court after a long absence following her earlier ejection last month for disrupting the proceedings.

Europe-Iraq Hostages: A news report in London today (Monday) says France, Germany and Italy have paid 45 million dollars for the release of hostages kidnapped in Iraq. The British newspaper "The Times" says its information comes from documents held by security officials in Baghdad who have played a crucial role in hostage negotiations during the past two years. France is said to have paid 25 million dollars for the release of three hostages (Georges Malbrunot in December 2004, and Florence Aubenas and Christian Chesnot in June 2005).

"The Times" says Italy handed over 11 million dollars to win freedom for three hostages ( -- Simona Pari, Simona Toretta and Giuliana Sgrena -- since 2004). Germany is reported to have paid eight million dollars to secure the release of three hostages (including Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, who were freed earlier this month).

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