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Four Gitmo detainees to go home

The United States has agreed to release the last four Britons and one Australian who have been held without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for about three years, officials in the three countries announced Tuesday.

The news was welcomed by civil and human rights campaigners here who said, however, that the United States should now free all the estimated 550 prisoners held at Guantanamo and that Britain should release 11 foreigners it is holding without charge or trial under its terrorism laws.

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, announced the release in Parliament on Tuesday, adding that the men should return to Britain within the next few weeks.

In a statement in Washington, the Pentagon said Britain and Australia had "accepted responsibility for these individuals and will work to prevent them from engaging in or otherwise supporting terrorist activities in the future."

However, Straw said that once the men were back, "the police will decide whether to arrest them." He said no promises had been made to the U.S. authorities on the prisoners' treatment.

North Korea still stalls on nuclear program talks

BEIJING _ A U.S. representative who visited North Korea said Tuesday that Pyongyang is waiting to see how the second Bush administration takes shape before deciding whether to return to talks on its nuclear program.

Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said the officials he met expressed "their desire for a significantly improved set of relations with the United States," but they argued repeatedly that Washington still harbored "hostile intent."

They did not specify what exactly would convince them to continue negotiations, he said.

The United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have been struggling to arrange a new round of talks on the North's nuclear weapons programs. Three rounds, hosted by China, have been held since 2003, but there have been no breakthroughs.

U.S. forces won't help Turkey fight terror group

ISTANBUL, Turkey _ The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East told the Turkish government on Tuesday that he could not spare any troops to meet its request for an assault on Kurdish guerrillas who have been using northern Iraq as a base for attacks on Turkish forces.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the Army's Central Command, said during a visit in Ankara that the United States considered the main Kurdish separatist group, the PKK, a terrorist organization. But he added, "We also understand _ all of us understand _ that our troops have a lot of work to do there along with the Iraqi security forces, and we agree that, over time, we must deal with the PKK."

The statement, little different from the assurances given by other U.S. officials over the last year, was unlikely to ease either government or public hostility in Turkey toward U.S. policy in Iraq.

Turkey has complained for months that the United States has done little in Iraq to discourage Turkish Kurdish separatists, to stop the eviction of the Turkmen population from the disputed city of Kirkuk, or to prevent frequent kidnappings and killings of Turkish workers in Iraq.

The government also fears that an overwhelming victory by Iraqi Shiites in the elections this month could lead Iraqi Kurds to solidify their semiautonomous status in northern Iraq.

Explosion at Chinese fireworks factory kills 25

BEIJING _ Twenty-five people were killed and nine injured in an explosion Tuesday at a fireworks factory in northern China, officials said.

Most of the victims in the blast at the Xiangliu firecracker factory in Shanxi province were young women, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The cause of the explosion was under investigation, Xinhua said, and authorities were looking for the owner of the factory.

China's fireworks industry suffers hundreds of deaths yearly.

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