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OIL-FOR-FOOD INQUIRY CLEARS GOVERNMENT

AUSTRALIA

An inquiry cleared Australia's government of wrongdoing in an Iraqi oil-for-food scandal Monday, but recommended top officials of the monopoly wheat exporter face charges for paying more than $200 million to the Saddam Hussein regime. Prime Minister John Howard promised the inquiry's key recommendations would be acted upon immediately and said the findings vindicated him and other top government officials who denied having prior knowledge of the kickbacks. Howard's government launched the inquiry after AWB - formerly the state-owned Australian Wheat Board - was named as the largest single payer of kickbacks in the corruption-ridden U.N. program.

BRITAIN

AIDS deaths projected to rise

Within the next 25 years, AIDS is set to join heart disease and stroke as the top three causes of death worldwide, according to a study published online Monday. When global mortality projections were last calculated a decade ago, researchers had assumed the number of AIDS cases would be declining. Instead, it's on the rise. Currently ranked fourth behind heart disease, stroke and respiratory infections, AIDS is set to become No. 3, say researchers in a new report in the Public Library of Science's Medicine journal. It accounts for about 2.8 million deaths every year, but could near 120 million by 2030.

ECUADOR

Leftist holds lead in presidential race

Leftist candidate Rafael Correa headed to victory in Ecuador's presidential race on Monday. With 58 percent of the ballots counted in Sunday's runoff, Correa had a 65 percent to 35 percent lead over banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. Correa's followers took to the streets in caravans with musicians to celebrate a victory that few questioned except Noboa, who said he would await the end of the official count that might not come until today.

SRI LANKA

Tamil leader says cease-fire defunct

The leader of the Tamil Tigers rebel group blamed the Sri Lankan government Monday for rendering a 4-year-old cease-fire defunct and said his organization had no choice but to press for an independent homeland for the island nation's minority Tamils. In his yearly speech, Velupillai Prabhakaran, head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, lambasted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse as a chauvinistic hawk bent on subduing his group militarily while pretending to talk peace. But he stopped short of declaring a formal withdrawal from the truce, which both parties have insisted still holds despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Elsewhere

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea plans to kill cats and dogs to try to prevent the spread of bird flu after an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus at a chicken farm last week, officials said Monday. The ministry did not say how many dogs and cats would be killed in the area of the outbreak.

AFGHANISTAN: A suicide car bomber attacked a Canadian armored vehicle Monday, killing two soldiers, officials said.

INDIA: The military on Monday carried out its first successful test interception of a ballistic missile, using a second missile to destroy the incoming rocket, the Defense Ministry said.

Times wires

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