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Briefs (left)

Baghdad Death Toll Rises as
Violence Escalates Amid Ramadan

By Michael Luo
THE NEW YORK TIMES BAGHDAD, IRAQ

As many as 60 bodies, many of them shot in the head at close range and bearing signs of torture, were discovered across the city on Thursday, an Interior Ministry official said.

The death toll was one of the highest in weeks and came as U.S. and Iraqi troops continued to sweep Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods in a broad effort to control the capital. The execution-style killings, often driven by sectarian hatred, jumped dramatically here after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February.

Also on Thursday, an Islamist Internet site posted an audio clip of a man it identified as Hamza al-Muhajir, an Egyptian man whom the U.S. military has said is al-Qaida’s new chief in Iraq. In the 20-minute clip, the man exhorts fellow Sunni fighters to “work hard in this holy month to capture some Christian dogs,” to trade for an Egyptian cleric, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is imprisoned in the United States. Abdel-Rahman was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up several New York landmarks.

Judge Tells U.S. to End Bid to
Recover Medicare Refunds

By Robert Pear
THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Bush administration to halt its effort to collect $50 million from 230,000 Medicare beneficiaries who had received erroneous refunds of premiums paid for prescription drug coverage.

The judge, Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of U.S. District Court here, said Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, must immediately send a notice to every one of the 230,000 beneficiaries, stating that each has a right under federal law to request such waivers.

Federal officials had previously told beneficiaries to return the money by Saturday, Sept. 30.

If a beneficiary requests a waiver, the government cannot try to recoup the money until the secretary of health and human services rules on the request, Kennedy said in issuing a preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs include the Action Alliance of Senior Citizens, based in Philadelphia, and Gray Panthers, a national organization for older Americans.

Strong Challenge For
Zambia’s President

By Michael Wines
THE NEW YORK TIMES JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

Zambia’s wildest and most entertaining presidential campaign in memory staggered to a finish on Thursday as voters chose between the wooden incumbent, Levy Mwanawasa, and a silver-tongued populist who pledged to lower taxes and throw out a rising class of Chinese merchants and investors.

Nobody seemed sure who would win, but some recent opinion polls showed the populist, a former Cabinet official named Michael Sata, with a hefty lead over Mwanawasa, of the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

A business executive who is the third major candidate, Hakainda Hichilema, appeared to stand scant chance of winning.

Lines of voters snaked down streets outside polling places in Lusaka, the capital, an hour before voting commenced on Thursday, one indication of the country’s absorption with the contest. Nearly 4 million Zambians registered to vote in this election, two-thirds more than the 2.4 million who signed up for the last presidential contest, in 2001.