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Pakistan Opposition Says Thousands of Sharif Supporters Detained


Pakistan: Opposition loyalists say Pakistani police have detained thousands of supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ahead of his return from eight years of exile today (Sunday).
Officials with Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party say security forces began rounding up supporters late Saturday to try to prevent a massive homecoming rally.
Party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal says police have set up barricades throughout Lahore, the eastern city that is Mr. Sharif's hometown and where he will arrive Sunday afternoon (approx 1000-1100 utc).
Government officials have said he will be allowed to remain in the country. When Mr. Sharif first tried to return to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia in September, authorities deported him within hours. The decision to allow Mr. Sharif (of the Pakistan Muslim League Party) to stay follows meetings last week in Saudi Arabia between Pakistan's Ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, and King Abdullah.

Pakistan Violence: Pakistan's military says government troops have launched a ground offensive in the northern Swat valley, killing at least 30 pro-Taliban militants.
The Army said it is the first time ground troops have been used in the area, a former popular tourist destination.
On Saturday, officials said they had begun stopping all food shipments into the region, where recent clashes have killed more than 250 people.
Unrest erupted in the Swat Valley last month when pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah declared a holy war against the government.
Also on Saturday, officials said at least 20 people were killed in two suicide bombings targeting Pakistan's military in Rawalpindi.

Israel – Palestinians: Israel's prime minister says he hopes this week's Middle East peace conference in the United States can start serious negotiations on all core issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking in Israel (at Ben-Gurion airport) before departing for the United States early today (Sunday), Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians can only come in the form of "two national homes for two peoples."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in the Washington area overnight.
Syria's participation in the conference is still not certain, but Mr. Olmert said Israel would take a positive view if Damascus decides to send a representative. The conference opens Tuesday in (the city of) Annapolis, Maryland, about 55 kilometers from Washington.
Arab League foreign ministers have decided to attend the peace conference, but Syria's foreign minister (Walid al-Moallem) has said Damascus will not participate unless the agenda includes the Golan Heights issue.

Iraq: U.S. military officials says the improved security situation in Iraq will enable the withdrawal of five-thousand American soldiers by next month - the first reduction in overall troop strength since the surge of U.S. forces began early this year.
A U.S. military spokesman (Admiral Gregory Smith) said Saturday an Army brigade that has been operating in Diyala Province will be returning home, and other forces already in Iraq will relocate into the province.
U.S. officials have said they could withdraw about 20-thousand U.S. troops by July, if the security situation in Iraq permits.
In violence today (Sunday), Iraqi police say a car bomb exploded near a medical complex in Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding at least 30.
Elsewhere in the capital, authorities say a bomb, apparently aimed at a police patrol, wounded at least two civilians.
Violence has decreased significantly in Iraq in recent months.

Australia Election:

Australia's newly elected prime minister has vowed to make climate change his top priority after taking office later this week.
Kevin Rudd says he plans to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which would place a cap on greenhouse emissions. He will attend next month's U.N. meeting on climate change in Bali, Indonesia. The prime minister-elect has also promised a phased withdrawal of Australia's 500 combat troops from Iraq.
Mr. Rudd's victory has ended 11 years of conservative government under Prime Minister John Howard.
U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have congratulated Mr. Rudd on his victory.
Conservative Australian Prime Minister Howard conceded defeat Saturday in a speech to supporters in Sydney.
Mr. Rudd says he expects to have his Cabinet sworn in by late this week.

Listen to our World News for details.

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