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Venezuela strike leader given asylum

A leader of a failed two-month strike to oust President Hugo Chavez was granted asylum Friday by Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry said.

Labor union leader Carlos Ortega, who faces treason charges, entered the embassy Friday.

"For humanitarian reasons . . . (Costa Rica) decided to grant asylum and it has communicated as much to the Venezuelan government," the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statement said Ortega cited fear for his personal security when he requested asylum. He had been in hiding since Feb. 20, after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest for treason, rebellion and incitement.

Mysterious respiratory

illness hits hundreds

Hundreds of people in Vietnam, Hong Kong and mainland China, many of them hospital workers, have come down with a mysterious respiratory illness that has killed at least six people and left many with severe breathing difficulties, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

Even the most sophisticated tests by leading laboratories in four countries have failed to find a cause, the officials said. Nor is the illness responding to antiviral or antibiotic drugs.

The health organization, a unit of the United Nations, issued its first global alert in 10 years, advising health officials of the illness and asking them to report new cases.

U.S. extends waiver of

Pakistani sanctions

WASHINGTON _ President Bush on Friday extended a waiver of sanctions against Pakistan, clearing the way for that country to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. economic aid.

Pakistan had been under sanctions that barred economic and military assistance because of the 1999 coup that brought President Pervez Musharraf to power.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as Musharraf sided with the United States in the war on terror and in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan, Bush lifted the sanctions that had been imposed.

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