Aides to radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are denying reports by U.S. officials that the Shi'ite leader fled to Iran two to three weeks ago. Sadr aides said today (Wednesday) that he was still in Iraq but had reduced public appearances for security reasons. Several aides said the cleric is in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, where his headquarters is located. Senior Bush administration officials told reporters Tuesday that Sadr left by car for Tehran, as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops began moving into Baghdad to crack down on militias and insurgents. They said he is believed to still be in Iran.
LEBANON: Tens of thousands of Lebanese government supporters
have gathered in central Beirut for a mass rally to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Huge crowds streamed to the heavily protected Martyrs Square near the late prime minister's grave hours ahead of today's (Wednesday's) rally. Lebanese authorities deployed hundreds of soldiers and police to guard the Martyrs Square and avert possible violence between pro- and anti- government activists.
IRAN-BLAST: Iran's state-run news agency (IRNA) says a car bomb blast near a bus used by the Revolutionary Guard Corps in southeastern Iran has killed at least 18 people and wounded several others. The report said the attack took place today (Wednesday) near the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, which borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The report did not specify if the victims were members of the Guards.
NOKOR TALKS: North and South Korea say they have agreed to discuss esuming ministerial talks, after a breakthrough in negotiations aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program. South Korea's Unification Ministry said today (Wednesday) that representatives of both sides will meet in the North Korean border city of Kaeson Thursday. North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency has confirmed the proposed meeting.
VIETNAM-NORWAY DISSIDENT: A
Norwegian human rights group says Vietnam is refusing to allow its chairman to deliver a prize to a Buddhist monk. The Rafto Foundation says Hanoi has refused to grant a travel visa to Arne Lynngaard, so he can present its top human rights prize to 77-year-old Thich Quang Do. The group says it is recognizing Do for his three decade-long peaceful opposition to Vietnam's communist government. The organization says Do has used political petitions to challenge authorities to engage in dialogue on democratic reforms and human rights.
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