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News Briefs

Nigerian President Defends Integrity Of Elections

THE NEW YORK TIMES

President Olusegun Obasanjo has defended the elections last Saturday that awarded him a second term, saying he was disappointed with international election monitors who criticized the vote with “generalizations” about fraud and intimidation.

“I feel the election went very well,” Obasanjo said on Wednesday night, sounding upbeat in an interview at his residence here. “I will not accept anybody undermining the integrity of the election. I will not. Because that would be dangerous for democracy in this land.”

Asked what he would say to Nigerians who complained of being unable to cast their votes, he said, “I would say that’s a great pity.”

“That anybody has been intimidated,” he added, “that again I would say is unfortunate.”

The tone of his remarks was in sharp contrast to the alarms raised earlier this week in varying degrees by several international observer groups over fraud, intimidation and other improprieties that they said had compromised the credibility of elections in certain states. The observers also noted that the elections were largely free of violence and that in many parts of the country they were orderly and proper.

Under Obasanjo’s predecessor, Gen. Sani Abacha, Nigeria was virtually a pariah state. Since his election in 1999, Obasanjo, a former military ruler, has sought to bring the country back into the good graces of the international community. At stake is not only the country’s image and his own legacy, but the foreign investment Nigeria desperately needs to aid its economy.

Suspected Taliban Attack Afghan Government Outpost

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Two Afghan government soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in southeastern Afghanistan late Wednesday when suspected Taliban fighters attacked their district offices with rockets and automatic weapons, the local governor said Thursday.

It was the second Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan this week.

The fighting raged for four hours until reinforcements arrived, Hamidullah Tokhi, the governor of Zabul Province, said. Three Taliban fighters were killed and one was wounded, he said. He estimated that about 80 Taliban fighters attacked the district offices, and said that after several hours they escaped to mountains nearby.

The attack began as President Hamid Karzai was returning from a two-day state visit to Pakistan to demand more cooperation in stemming the cross-border attacks. Karzai said the attacks represented the gravest threat to the stability of his government, and he warned Islamabad that if they were not stopped, such terrorists would become a danger for Pakistan too.

Zabul Province, which shares a border with Pakistan, has been a cause of concern for some time because of cross-border movement by Taliban and other opponents of the Afghan government. The remote region is thought to serve as a transit route for rebels coming from Pakistan into southern and central Afghanistan.

Iraqi Leads Troops to War Papers

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Alerted by an Iraqi who said he had worked for Baath Party and Republican Guard officials, U.S. troops Thursday discovered thousands of documents describing war plans, computer security and military bonuses.

The Iraqi led a U.S. special operations team to safes and a document-storage area in buildings once occupied by senior Iraqi military and government officials.

In the storage area, located in the basement of a concrete building that had been a military headquarters, the American team found thousands of documents stored on shelves and in cabinets. In a suitcase left in a small alleyway, the soldiers found Republican Guard papers titled “Emergency Planning for War.”

The documents, some dated as recently as March 10, discussed where to position three Republican Guard divisions, according to Jamal Jamal, an Iraqi translator working for the U.S. military. The papers, which bore the Republican Guard seal and letterhead, also detailed a plan dated Feb. 27 and never carried out to store fuel in the Tigris River.

In a computer room in the basement, the team found files describing how to build computer firewalls to prevent Iraqi citizens from hacking into the military’s secure network. Other documents discussed training soldiers in computer security.

Mexico, U.S. Agree on Border Security Pact

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Setting aside bitter differences over the war in Iraq, the United States and Mexico resumed Cabinet-level contacts Thursday with an agreement to improve border security. But Mexico’s top law enforcement official used the encounter at this frontier crossing to revive another thorny issue -- how the United States treats undocumented Mexican migrants.

“The migration issue is one that cannot be left out of our discussions,” Interior Minister Santiago Creel told a joint news conference here with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. “Today more than ever it makes sense to put this topic forward as the first priority.”

The two men announced new steps in a year-old, $25 million “smart border” program that employs high-tech scanners and computerized databases to speed the flow of legal goods and travelers across the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexican frontier while trying to filter out terrorists, criminals and contraband.

But questions about Iraq and the fate of the estimated 4 million undocumented Mexicans who live and work in the United States dominated their public appearance here on a platform overlooking a noisy customs inspection yard for truck cargo crossing from Tijuana.

Ridge said he and his Mexican counterpart discussed migration briefly during more than three hours of talks that began Wednesday.