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Briefs (left)

Military Raid Frees Three Hostages
In Iraq After Four Months Captivity

By Kirk Semple

Acting on a tip from a detainee, a multinational military force stormed a house in western Baghdad early Thursday and rescued two Canadians and a Briton who had been held hostage by a shadowy guerrilla group for nearly four months.

James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both from Canada, and Norman Kember, 74, from Britain, were discovered bound yet unguarded, officials reported. The three were whisked to the fortified Green Zone and debriefed by the authorities but did not address the news media, officials said.

The men, all anti-war advocates working for Christian Peacemaker Teams, had been captured Nov. 26 along with an American colleague, Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., whose body was discovered March 9 wrapped in plastic and dumped on a trash pile in western Baghdad. Fox had been tortured, handcuffed and shot, the police said.

Thursday’s rescue, by a force that included American and British troops, represented one of the few times that military action in Iraq has played a decisive role in a hostage release.

China Adds to Uncertainty
Over Jailed Times Researcher

By Jim Yardley

The United States on Thursday continued to press China about the status of a jailed researcher for The New York Times, but the uncertainty about his fate deepened as a Chinese government spokesman appeared to cast doubt on whether he would soon be released.

The case against Zhao Yan, 44, a Chinese researcher in the Beijing bureau of The Times, was withdrawn last Friday by a court order. His lawyer said the withdrawal of the charges against him — one count of fraud, another of disclosing state secrets to The Times — meant that Zhao would soon be released, possibly on an equivalent of bail.

But the Chinese authorities have since remained silent about the status of Zhao, and he is still behind bars. Asked on Thursday afternoon about the case, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, criticized foreign news organizations for making “irresponsible statements,” and he then offered a cryptic response.

“You ask if Zhao Yan will soon be released,” Qin said during a regular news briefing for foreign reporters. “From what I have learned, the actual situation is not like what you are talking about.”

U.S. Advisory About Travel in Italy Becomes a Political Issue

By Ian Fisher

An American travel advisory on possible dangers in Italy ballooned on Thursday into an issue in the close national election campaign here, with opposition politicians suggesting that the advisory could be used as ammunition against them.

Silvio Berlusconi, the center-right prime minister who is battling to remain in office, immediately seized on the advisory, saying that the “security concerns” addressed in it were caused by demonstrators aligned with the center-left opposition.

“I have the right and the duty to underline the danger of the political left that wishes to bring party leaders to parliament who want to snuff out our opinions by using violence,” Berlusconi said in Rome.

The travel advisory, issued by the State Department on its Web site this week, warned Americans to avoid large crowds, mentioning specifically a violent demonstration on March 11 in Milan carried out by anti-globalization activists.