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French trial starts in plot to bomb embassy

The trial of six men suspected of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 2001 opened Monday, with tense exchanges between the chief judge and the suspected ringleader.

Djamel Beghal, a 39-year-old Algerian-born French citizen who is suspected of being one of Osama bin Laden's most important operatives in Europe, resisted demands by the chief judge, Philippe Vandingenen, to state an affiliation with a particular Muslim political movement.

Arrested in Dubai in July 2001, Beghal initially confessed to interrogators there that he was the leader of a group planning to bomb the embassy under orders from al-Qaida. He later retracted his confession, telling the French authorities that his interrogators had tortured him. If convicted, the six defendants, who have proclaimed their innocence, face up to 10 years in prison.

Kerry starts 13-day trip

to Middle East

Sen. John Kerry is re-emerging on the public stage this week with a 13-day fact-finding trip through the Middle East, which supporters said showed that the Massachusetts Democrat is determined to maintain a high profile after his losing presidential campaign.

Kerry arrived Monday in Amman, Jordan, and has planned stops in Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. He has meetings set up with a wide range of experts, local leaders and military commanders, as well as troops from Massachusetts, said April Boyd, a Kerry spokeswoman.

China truck crash kills

54 Tibetan pilgrims

SHANGHAI, China _ A truck carrying Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims overturned Monday on a mountain road in western China, killing at least 54 people and injuring 41, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The accident happened around noon as the truck was traveling through the Qinghai region as it made its way back from Tibet's capital Lhasa, Xinhua said.

The injured were sent to hospitals, where 29 of them were in serious condition, the report said.

Most of the passengers were from Ganzi and Aba, ethnic Tibetan regions of the southwestern province of Sichuan, Xinhua said. It said they had been on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the traditional home of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's highest figure.

Israel names fifth suspect

in artifact forgery scheme

JERUSALEM _ The former head of the antiquities laboratory at the prestigious Israel Museum is the fifth suspect in a sophisticated forgery ring that allegedly produced a treasure trove of fake Bible-era artifacts, a government official and museum spokeswoman said Monday.

The ring has been accused of forging what had been heralded as perhaps the two biggest biblical discoveries in the Holy Land in recent years: the purported burial box of Jesus' brother James and a stone tablet with written instructions by King Yoash on maintenance work at the Jewish Temple.

Justice Ministry spokesman Uri Steinberg named the suspect as Rafael Braun. Braun's name was withheld during a five-day effort by the court to track him down, Steinberg said. A court official could not say whether Braun had been located.

Elsewhere . . .

CUBA-EUROPE TIES: The Cuban government has resumed formal diplomatic contacts with eight European nations, including France, Germany and Britain, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Monday. Cuba's relations with Europe chilled after Castro cracked down on dissidents in March 2003.

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