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Rushdie urges Iran to lift threat

British author Salman Rushdie defied an Iranian death threat against him and appeared in public Friday to call for an end to his ordeal, three years to the day since he was forced into hiding. The Indian-born writer, accompanied by police, made an appearance at a lecture given in his honor in London as part of a series of events marking the third anniversary of Iran's fatwa, or death order, issued against him over his novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, 44, was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience and made a passionate call to be allowed to return to normal life. Rushdie has been living at a series of secret locations under police guard since the late Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his death in February 1989 for a perceived insult to Islam in The Satanic Verses.

Somali fighters say war will stop

UNITED NATIONS _ The two sides in Somalia's civil war signed separate agreements Friday to immediately stop fighting, with a formal cease-fire to be completed by the end of this month or early March, negotiators said. At least 20,000 people have been killed or wounded since Nov. 17 in fighting between forces loyal to Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid and interim President Ali Mahdi _ the country's two rival leaders, both members of the same party but belonging to different clans.

Police arrest 4 in Japan scandal

TOKYO _ Police arrested business executives Friday in Japan's latest corruption case, which is shaping up to be a huge scandal that could drag down the government. The case involves Tokyo Sagawa Kyubin, one of Japan's largest trucking firms, and is widely thought to reach to the highest levels of political leadership. On Friday, prosecutors arrested Hiroyasu Watanabe, former president of Sagawa Kyubin, and three other executives in connection with alleged illegal loans that saddled the firm with nearly $100-million in bad debts. Reports say Sagawa Kyubin illegally funneled billions of dollars to politicians and an underworld syndicate.

Vatican denies helping Nazis

VATICAN CITY _ Rebutting an old accusation, the Vatican on Friday rejected as "historically false" allegations that it aided Nazi war criminals to flee Europe to South America after World War II. The assertion came in a written statement by Vatican press chief Joaquin Navarro, the spokesman for Pope John Paul II. It was triggered by reports from Argentina that newly declassified archives there show that Nazi officials arrived in Buenos Aires after the war on passports provided by the Vatican, the Red Cross and Spain. Noting news reports from the Argentine capital, Navarro said, "The idea that the Holy See .

.

. helped Nazi criminals, persecutors of the Jews, to flee from Europe by helping provide passports is historically false."

Thousands of Greeks protest

SALONIKA, Greece _ More than 200,000 Greeks protested Friday in Salonika against the breakaway Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, denouncing its alleged territorial claims on Greece. Black-robed Orthodox priests packed the rooftops and giant banners filled central Aristotle Square, calling on the Yugoslav republic set up in 1944 to give up the name Macedonia. "Macedonia is Greek and its capital is Salonika," the crowd chanted. The protest and a one-day strike were called by Mayor Costas Kosmopoulos and brought Greece's second largest city to a halt.

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