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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed in Iraq

US and Iraqi officials have announced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, is dead. According to their account, Zarqawi was killed in a US-Iraqi raid near the town of Baqouba on Wednesday. Another seven aides were said to be killed in the attack. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Zarqawi’s identity had been confirmed through fingerprints and facial identification. Zarqawi was the most-wanted man in Iraq. The US government had placed a $25 million dollar bounty on his head. As leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi is said to have directed attacks that killed scores of Iraqi civilians as well as US troops. Zarqawi also claimed responsibility for several attacks outside Iraq, including the triple hotel bombings in Jordan last November. Zarqawi’s role in Iraq has been the subject of much debate. He is thought to be the mastermind of the deadliest insurgent attacks in Iraq. Others have questioned whether he even exists, or say that his influence has been overblown. Writing on his weblog, University of Michigan professor and noted Middle East expert Juan Cole said: "Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don’t expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon."

US Troops Accused of New Civilian Killings

Meanwhile in Iraq, US troops are being accused of a new round of killings of Iraqi civilians. On Wednesday, the Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraq’s main Sunni group, said it had evidence US troops killed more than two dozen Iraqis in incidents last month. According to the group, the most deadly attack occurred in a house in Yusifiyah south of Baghdad — killing 13 people, including women and children.

WFP: Darfur Food Crisis Worsening

This news on Darfur — the World Food Programme is warning innocent Darfurians are growing increasingly hungry as the security situation gets worse.

  • WFP director James Morris: "When our people can’t get there because they are denied access because of security, the people who suffer are those who are displaced and living in a strange environment....and those who have no ability to support themselves on their own. And any time there is a crisis anywhere in the world, these issues always fall disproportionately on the bulk of the women and children."

A peak in violence forced the World Food Programme to cut its monthly food rations in half last month.

East Timorese Archives Damaged By Looting

In East Timor, looters have seriously damaged an archive containing records of abuses committed by Indonesian soldiers before East Timor’s 1999 vote for independence. The looting comes as East Timor is embroiled in an internal conflict between the military and dismissed former soldiers. Last week, looters broke into the offices of the Serious Crimes Unit. According to East Timorese officials, the looters ransacked and stole evidence against scores of Indonesian army officers who have been accused of crimes against humanity. A state prosecutor said nearly all of the 1999 files are damaged or missing.

Senate Votes Down Amendment Banning Gay Marriage

Here in the United States, an amendment to ban gay marriage has failed in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 49 to 48 to end debate on the proposal, 11 short of the 60 needed to move the measure toward a final vote. Republicans say they will re-attempt to ban gay marriage in the House of Representatives in July.

New Orleans Census Shows 15% Drop in Black Residents

In New Orleans, a new census covering the fourth months following Hurricane Katrina has found the city has become considerably whiter, older and less poor. New Orleans’ metropolitan area has shrunk to more than half its size. The black population has dropped from 37 from 22 percent, while the percentage of whites has increased from 60 to 73 percent.

Colombia Remains Most Dangerous Country For Trade Unionists

In labor news, the newly-released annual report of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions says 115 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers’ rights last year. In addition, the group says 1,600 were subjected to violent assaults, 9,000 were arrested and nearly 10,000 were fired from their jobs due to trade union involvement. Colombia remained the most dangerous place to be a trade unionist, with 70 killings last year.

Bolton Threatens “Consequences” Over UN Deputy Speech

At the UN, a new conflict is brewing between US Ambassador John Bolton and the staff of UN Secretary General Koffi Annan. Bolton has threatened consequences due to comments made by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown. Brown spoke Tuesday at an event for the Century Foundation in New York.

  • UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown: "I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is meant: as a sincere and constructive critique of U.S. policy toward the UN by a friend and admirer. Because the fact is that the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the UN one way or another."

In response, Ambassador Bolton said the speech was the worst he’s heard in decades and said the UN may face consequences.

  • UN Ambassador John Bolton: "Secretary General Kofi Annan, we think, has to personally and publicly repudiate this speech at the earliest possible opportunity. Otherwise, I fear the consequences not just for the reform effort but for the UN as a whole."

The dispute comes as the UN nears a deadline to enact management reforms by the end of the month. The Bush administration has warned it may reduce UN funding if the deadline is not met. A spokesperson for Koffi Annan said he stood by his deputy’s comments.

Google May Reconsider China Search Engine

A founder of the internet search giant Google says his company may reverse its decision to launch a censored version of its popular search engine in China. Speaking in Washington, Google executive Sergey Brin said Google was considering the move after coming under heavy criticism for meeting the Chinese government’s censorship guidelines. Google’s Chinese version bars search results for terms including "Tiananmen Square" or "Falun Gong."

Billy Preston Dies at 59

And Billy Preston, the prolific keyboardist known as the "Fifth Beatle", died Tuesday at the age of 59. Preston played on several number one hits for the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and had three number one pop singles of his own. He played at what turned out to be the Beatles’ last concert, the famous rooftop performance in 1969.

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