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Indian troops kill close associate of Hizbul rebel group chief



JAMMU, India (AFP) - Indian troops have shot dead a top commander of Kashmir's dominant rebel group Hizbul Mujahedin, a defence spokesman said.


The militant, a close associate of the group's leader Syed Salahuddin, was killed in a shoot-out in the disputed Himalayan region, he said on Monday.


"A top commander of the Hizbul Mujahedin, Noor Mohammed alias Javed Burky, a former body guard of Syed Salahuddin was killed in a gunfight in Doda district," 240 kilometres (150 miles) from Kashmir's winter capital Jammu, the spokesman said.


Indian troops were tipped off that "Noor Mohammed would be visiting his wife and his one yearold son in Panchraba village and a cordon was laid on the outer periphery of the village," he said.


The rebel was active in Indian-Kashmir since 1992 and considered an expert in making bombs and other explosive devices.


A huge cache of arms and ammunition was also recovered from the site of encounter.


Kashmir is in the grip of a 17-year-old insurgency against Indian rule that has left at least 44,000 people dead by official count.


Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir and claim it in full.


Most of the militant groups want to fold Indian Kashmir into Pakistan.


Violence continues in the Himalayan region despite a slow-moving peace process between India and Pakistan aimed at resolving all differences, including Kashmir which has triggered two of their three wars.

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China pledges billions to Africa


By JOE McDONALD, Associated Press Writer



BEIJING - China launched a sweeping effort Saturday to expand its access to Africa's oil and markets, pledging billions of dollars in aid and loans as dozens of leaders from the world's poorest continent opened a conference aimed at building economic ties.


African leaders at the two-day meeting said they welcomed Chinese investment and business ties, but Beijing also faces criticism that it is treating Africa like a colonial territory and supports regimes with poor human rights records


President Hu Jintao pledged to double China's aid to Africa from its 2006 level by 2009. Speaking at the conference's opening ceremony, he promised $3 billion in loans, $2 billion in export credits and a $5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa.


"Chinese assistance to Africa is sincere, unselfish and has no strings attached," Premier Wen Jiabao said at a gathering of Chinese and African entrepreneurs held as part of the conference.

Possibly reacting to criticism that China's aid to Africa might fuel human rights abuses or corruption, Wen promised to ensure that projects are "open, just, fair and transparent."


The two-day event includes heads of state from 35 of the 53 African nations and top officials from 13 others — one of the largest such gatherings in history.

China's trade with Africa soared to $39.7 billion last year, four times its 2000 level, according to Wen. He called for efforts to boost that to $100 billion by 2020 and promised to open China's markets wider to African exports.


China's state oil companies are expanding in Africa, signing deals in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and elsewhere. Manufacturers are trying to expand exports to African markets.


Human rights activists accuse China of supporting governments such as Sudan and Zimbabwe that are accused of chronic abuses. African business groups complain about poor treatment by Chinese companies and competition from a flood of low-cost imports.


But a succession of African leaders who spoke Saturday said they want closer commercial ties with China and hope to learn from its two-decade-old boom as they try to reduce poverty.


"Chinese companies can become key players by investing in our development processes," said President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.


Hu said Beijing also will forgive debts owed by the poorest African countries and grant more of their goods tariff-free import status.


China will train 15,000 African professionals, build schools, hospitals and anti-malaria clinics, send agriculture experts and youth volunteers to Africa and build a new conference center for the African Union, Hu said.

He said China would double the number of scholarships given to African students to 4,000 by 2009.


At a banquet Saturday, Hu invoked the shared history of colonialism in China and Africa and their struggle with poverty.


"The Chinese people rejoice at the achievements made by the African people," he said. "The Chinese people will continue to provide assistance and support to African people in an effort to achieve common development."


The New York-based group Human Rights Watch appealed to Beijing on Saturday to be judicious in giving aid. It called on Chinese leaders to avoid giving Sudan assistance that might fuel the Darfur conflict and to stop supplying Zimbabwe with electronic surveillance and Internet-censoring technology.


"Africans do not need another external power enabling abusive regimes," the group said in a statement.


World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz accused Chinese banks last month of ignoring human rights and environmental standards in Africa. He warned that their surge in lending could fuel corruption and debt burdens.



This weekend's conference is a major prestige event for China's communist leadership.


The capital was hung with banners welcoming the African leaders. The government called on residents to avoid driving to keep streets clear for their motorcades.


On Saturday, state television showed Chinese surgeons working in African hospitals, a Kenyan stadium paid for by Beijing, and Chinese and African students dancing together.

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China, Pakistan to sign economic accords



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Chinese Presiden Hu Jintao received a red carpet welcome to Pakistan on Thursday on a trip aimed at expanding economic ties with Beijing's longtime ally, including signing a free trade agreement between the two countries, a Pakistan diplomat said


Hu and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will sign a raft of economic deals on Friday that aim at expanding a burgeoning bilateral trade relationship that grew 39 percent last year to $4.26 billion.


Salman Bashir, Pakistan's envoy to China, said the free trade agreement will be the most important document signed during Hu's four-day visit.

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Saudis arrest 172 militants in plot


By ABDULLAH SHIHRI, Associated Press Writer

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Police arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom had trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A spokesman said all that remained in the plot "was to set the zero hour."


The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide atttacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones" — some of which were outside the kingdom

"They had reached an advance stage of readiness and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig.


Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press in a phone call. "They had the personnel, the money, the arms. Almost all the elements for terror attacks were complete except for setting the zero hour for the attacks."


The ministry did not say the militants would fly aircraft into oil refineries, as the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, but it said in a statement that some detainees had been "sent to other countries to study flying in preparation for using them to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom."


The militants also planned to storm Saudi prisons to free the inmates, the statement said. More than $32.4 million was seized in the operation, one of the largest sweeps against terror cells in the kingdoms.


The militants plotted to carry out suicide attacks against "public figures, oil facilities, refineries ... and military zones." The statement said some of the military targets were outside the kingdom, but it did not elaborate.


The Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah broadcast footage of large weapons cache discovered buried in the desert. The arms included bricks of plastic explosives, ammunition cartridges, handguns and rifles wrapped in plastic sheeting.


The ministry referred to the militants only as a "deviant group" — the Saudi term for Islamic terrorist.


Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the privately owned Al-Arabiya TV channel that the militants included non-Saudis.


Al-Ekhbariah showed investigators breaking tiled floors with hammers to uncover pipes that contained weapons. In one scene, an official upends a plastic pipe and bullets and little packets of plastic explosives spill out.


The channel also showed investigators digging up plastic sacks in the desert.


The al-Qaida terror group, whose leader Osama ben Laden is a Saudi, has called for attacks on the kingdom's oil facilities as a means of crippling both the kingdom's economy and the hurting the West, which he accuses of paying too little for Arab oil.

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27 killed in Pakistan political violence


By ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writer

KARACHI, Pakistan - Government supporters and opponents turned neighborhoods of Pakistan's largest city into battlegrounds Saturday, leaving at least 27 people dead in the worst political violence since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended the chief justice.


The justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, flew to Karachi to attend a rally organized by his supporters but never made it out of the airport. He abandoned his plans in the face of street battles across the sprawling city.


Gunmen with assault rifles traded fire in a residential area of bungalows and concrete apartment blocks just a half-mile from the international airport, where nearby streets were blocked by shipping containers and immobilized trucks and gunfire left several activists lying in pools of their own blood. A private TV network came under attack as well, but stayed on the air as rioters torched vehicles outside.


Chaudhry took an evening flight back to the capital and it was unclear whether the rally at Karachi's high court would proceed.


The fighting broke out as Chaudhry arrived for what organizers hoped would be the largest in two months of rallies by lawyers and opposition parties calling for his reinstatement and for Musharraf to step down. Pro-government parties responded with their own show of strength.


Musharraf, speaking ahead of his own rally late Saturday in the capital, Islamabad, urged the nation to stand united and remain peaceful. He ruled out calling a state of emergency to contain the escalating unrest.


In Karachi, opposition activists accused a pro-government party, the Mutahida Qami Movement (MQM), of attacking them with batons and gunfire as they attempted to greet the judge at the airport.


An AP reporter saw MQM supporters calling for ammunition and firing from buildings, reportedly at opposition supporters, who fired back.


Doctors at the city's four main hospitals said 27 people were dead and more than 100 injured, many of them from gunshot wounds. The number of dead was confirmed by a senior security official in Karachi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.


Men brandishing rifles and handguns marauded against a backdrop of burning cars and buses on the streets of the city, which has 15 million inhabitants and a history of political and ethnic violence.


In an afternoon speech by phone to a rally of thousands of his supporters in a Karachi square, MQM leader Altaf Hussain — who lives in exile in London — indirectly blamed Chaudhry for the violence, saying he should have heeded warnings from provincial officials to stay away.


Hussain urged the crowd to "control your emotions and demonstrate peace, as we are peace-loving people."


Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and is still army chief, was due to address a gathering in the capital, Islamabad, later Saturday that organizers forecast would draw over 300,000 ruling party supporters.


Critics accuse Musharraf of trying to sideline the independent-minded Chaudhry to head off legal challenges to his plan to seek a new five-year term later this year. The government maintains Chaudhry's March 9 ouster was not politically motivated and that he had abused his office.


Speaking earlier, Musharraf did not mention the Karachi violence, but ruled out declaring a state of emergency — which some analysts have suggested would let him keep power if his efforts to seek a new term while still army chief flounder.


"There is absolutely no requirement and absolutely no environment for taking such drastic measure," Musharraf was quoted as saying by the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency.

But the government's failure to contain the unrest in Karachi, despite the presence of 15,000 security forces, will deepen the political turmoil gripping Pakistan.



In the 1990s, scores of MQM activists were arrested for allegedly kidnapping dozens of their rivals and attacking security forces. Party activists are still heavily armed, but critics say they enjoy impunity as part of Musharraf's government.


Associated Press writer Afzal Nadeem, AP photographer Shakil Adil and AP Television cameraman Abdur Rehman in Karachi contributed to this report.

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