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Briefs (right)

Afghans Renew Protests
Over Cleric’s Killing

By Carlotta Gall

Thousands of people demonstrated Thursday in the eastern city of Khost against the killing of a religious leader, calling for the government to find and punish the perpetrators and for the Pakistani government to take action against those plotting terrorist acts in Pakistan.

Maulavi Muhammad Khan, a pro-government member of the clerics council in Khost, was killed by a bomb in his mosque last Friday, in an attack that government officials have attributed to the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

Ten thousand people — religious clerics, shopkeepers, townspeople, villagers and university students — turned out Thursday at 9 a.m., the provincial police chief, Gen. Muhammad Ayub, said. “It was very large demonstration, and they were using very strong words,” he said in a telephone interview.

The government news agency, Bakhtar, said there were hundreds of people at the demonstration, the second one inspired by Khan’s death.

“People came from the districts; they had demands,” Ayub said, summarizing the mood of the crowd. “They condemned al-Qaida and their activities and their supporters who conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Killing a religious leader is like killing a nation, they said, and they condemned the bombing of a mosque, which is against Islam. They asked Pakistan to help and cooperate against those who conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government to work harder and find the terrorists who did this.”

Bush Presses Abbas
To Confront Armed Gangs

By Steven R. Weisman

President Bush pressed the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Thursday to “confront the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine” but cautioned that a Palestinian state living peacefully with Israel might not be established before Bush leaves office in 2009.

Meeting at the White House, Abbas and Bush promised to push the negotiating process with Israel forward, and Bush called on Israel, as he has many times, to ease conditions for Palestinians on the West Bank and stop expanding settlements there and in Jerusalem.

But there was no sign that any progress had been achieved on these or other issues over which Israel and the Palestinian leadership have been at odds since the pullout of Israeli settlers from Gaza in August.

An impasse also remained with Israel over the Palestinian demand for more freedom of movement in and out of Gaza and in the West Bank, where Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints are prevalent.

It remained unclear on Thursday evening to what extent American officials had reaffirmed their appeal to Abbas and his aides to renew and tighten requirements in legislative elections in January that would require candidates to renounce violence and “undemocratic” methods.

Nigeria Reaches Pact to Pay Off
Most Foreign Debt

By Lydia Polgreen

Nigeria reached an agreement on Thursday to pay off most of the debt it owes to foreign creditors at a steep discount, a significant breakthrough for a nation long deemed too wealthy with oil money and too corrupt to be granted relief from debt accumulated over years of misrule.

The deal with the Paris Club of creditors, which includes Germany, France, Britain and other wealthy nations, allows Nigeria to pay off about $30 billion in accumulated debt for about $12 billion, an overall discount of about 60 percent, according to a statement released by the club.

“There is some pain on both sides, but it is also a good deal for both sides,” said Todd Moss, a fellow at the Center For Global Development, a nonpartisan research institution in Washington that proposed elements of the deal.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nigeria will pay about $6 billion in arrears it owes the club at face value, and then be able to buy back the remaining $24 billion at a discount. Profits from high oil prices will be used to pay the debt, Moss said.

Senator Wins More Than
$853,000 in Powerball

By David Stout

While driving to the Capitol for a vote on Monday, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., stopped at a service station to buy gasoline. Just for fun, he bought $20 worth of Powerball lottery tickets.

Thursday morning, he checked the newspaper and saw that he had a ticket that matched the first five winning numbers, though not the Powerball number. “Wow,” he recalled thinking. “I must have won about a hundred bucks.”

More, actually: Gregg banked a check for $853,492.

“Every American believes in good fortune and good luck, and I’m no different than anyone else,” he said at a news conference.

He said he did not play the lottery often, but was intrigued by the jackpot of some $340 million.

A Powerball ticket winning the jackpot was sold in the Jacksonville, Ore., area but had not been claimed at last report. Gregg was one of 47 players who matched five numbers for a substantial consolation prize.

Gregg, who heads the Budget Committee, has $1.5 million to $6.2 million in stocks, real estate and other investments, according to his latest financial-disclosure form. He is one of at least 40 senators who enjoy millionaire status.

The senator said he and his wife, Kathleen, would talk about what to do with the money, once he has paid the taxes on it. Some of it may go to the Hugh Gregg Foundation, which supports New Hampshire charities and is named after the senator’s late father, a former governor of the state.