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Israeli Ready for Peace Talks
If Palestinians Disarm Hamas

By Greg Myre

Israel’s acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said Tuesday that he would be willing to restart peace talks with the Palestinians if they met the longstanding Israeli demand to break up armed factions.

But Palestinian elections on Jan. 25 could further complicate peace efforts because the Islamic faction Hamas is expected to do well and might become part of the Palestinian government.

Hamas, which has carried out many bombings and other attacks against Israel, says it will not lay down its weapons after the election, and Israel insists it will not deal with Hamas, which Israel labels terrorist.

Still, Olmert said he hoped the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would disarm the factions, which could lead to renewed peace talks after the Palestinian balloting this month and Israeli elections in March. “I hope that based on the results of their elections, and after that the results of our elections, I will be able to enter negotiations,” Olmert said.

Earlier this week, Abbas said he was prepared to deal with Olmert “without any preconditions.” Israeli and Palestinian officials hold periodic contacts, but negotiations broke down shortly after the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

Both sides say they are committed to the so-called road map, the peace plan that has stalled since it was introduced in 2003. The plan’s initial steps call for the Palestinians to dismantle armed groups, and for Israel to take down unauthorized settlement outposts.

In the days immediately after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke on Jan. 4, Olmert maintained a relatively low profile and emphasized that he was only filling in. But with Sharon in a coma for the past 13 days, and showing no significant signs of recovery, Olmert is speaking out on issues.

Al Jazeera Shows Kidnapped
U.S. Journalist

By Robert F. Worth

Looking pale and tired, a kidnapped American reporter, Jill Carroll, appeared in a silent videotape broadcast Tuesday by Al Jazeera television. The network said her captors had threatened to kill her if the United States does not release all women held prisoner in Iraq within 72 hours.

The tape showed Carroll, 28, speaking against a white background, her long dark hair parted in the center, but there was no sound. Al Jazeera said she had asked the kidnappers to have pity and release her.

No insurgent group has taken responsibility for kidnapping her on Jan. 7, but a still photograph from the videotape on the network’s Web site showed the words “The Revenge Brigade.” The group is not known to have taken hostages in the past.

Carroll, a freelance reporter who was working primarily for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted in a dangerous part of western Baghdad. She had just left the office of Adnan Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab political leader, when gunmen intercepted her car, aiming pistols at the driver and pulling him out.

In a statement on the Monitor’s Web site, her family wrote: “Jill is an innocent journalist, and we respectfully ask that you please show her mercy and allow her to return home to her mother, sister and family. Jill is a kind person whose love for Iraq and the Iraqi people are evident in her articles.”

The editor of The Monitor, Richard C. Bergenheim, also posted an appeal for her release.

Carroll, who grew up in Michigan and speaks some Arabic, had been reporting in the Middle East since late 2002, mostly in Iraq.

More than 400 foreigners and at least 36 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2003, along with thousands of Iraqis.

Raid on Internet Company
Sends Japanese Shares Down

By Martin Fackler

An investigation of Livedoor, a popular Internet-portal company, caused a decline in Japanese stock markets Tuesday, as it also raised questions about the nation’s tolerance for a more freewheeling version of capitalism.

The inquiry into possible securities violations began Monday night, when Tokyo prosecutors raided the offices of Livedoor and the home of its maverick chief executive, Takafumi Horie.

Horie, a boyish 33-year-old fond of T-shirts and Ferraris, has become a symbol of a new Japanese entrepreneur, flouting the unwritten rules of the nation’s clubby corporate world.

More than a dozen investigators marched into the two locations, both in the Roppongi Hills high-rise complex in central Tokyo that has become a favored haunt of rich Internet and financial entrepreneurs. Camera crews were waiting as the prosecutors arrived, apparently tipped off about the raids, which took place in time for nightly news broadcasts.

In response to the raids, the benchmark Nikkei 225-stock index dropped 2.8 percent Tuesday, to 15,805.95, its biggest decline since May 10, 2004.

The sharpest sell-off was in Internet-related stocks, in response to what the news media called the “Livedoor shock.” Livedoor led the declines, falling 14.4 percent, to 596 yen ($5.16).

Another Internet company, Softbank, lost 11.1 percent, to 3,840 yen ($33.27). Yahoo Japan dropped 8.4 percent, to 164,000 yen ($1,420.92), and Rakuten, which runs a popular online shopping mall, sank 12.1 percent, to 98,500 yen ($853.47).

Prosecutors have not released any details about the suspected violations at Livedoor, but press reports in Japan have said authorities are investigating whether the company released false information to drive up the share price of a marketing subsidiary.

At a gathering with reporters Tuesday morning, Horie said the company was conducting an internal investigation and vowed to press on with business despite the setback. “There is nothing particularly wrong with our company,” he told reporters. “We want to keep expanding.”