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Briefs (left)

Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds Call
For Prime Minister’s Removal

By Robert F. Worth

Leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish, secular and Sunni Arab parties asked the main Shiite alliance on Thursday to withdraw interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister in the next government, saying al-Jaafari failed to contain the sectarian violence that swept the country over the past week.

The leaders said that if al-Jaafari continues as prime minister, they might try to force his removal by forming a united opposition group larger than the Shiites, in a move that could upend the political process and prolong efforts to form a government.

The request came as al-Jaafari imposed a daytime vehicle curfew in Baghdad on Friday, in an apparent effort to forestall any sermons at Friday prayers that could reignite the sectarian conflict that broke out after the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra last week. The violence diminished after the government imposed three days of curfew starting last Friday.

“The street is angry, and we need to contain the anger of the street,” al-Jaafari said in a televised appearance Thursday night, in a brief statement that appeared to be aimed in part at the nation’s imams. Al-Jaafari spoke after the second meeting of a new national security council, created to investigate the Samarra bombing and its aftermath and to prevent further outbreaks.

Kenya Police Disrupt TV Station And Major Newspaper

By Marc Lacey

Dozens of masked police officers forced a television station off the air in an early morning raid here in the Kenyan capital on Thursday before moving to a newspaper plant, where they disabled the printing press and burned thousands of papers, witnesses said.

The crackdown on the country’s second-largest media company came after the government jailed three of its journalists this week over a recent article about political intrigue involving President Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki, elected in 2002, has experienced a flurry of critical press coverage in recent months as his administration has grappled with accusations of corruption and political infighting.

“ When you rattle a snake you must prepare yourself to be bitten,” declared the country’s tough-talking internal security minister, John Michuki, brushing away criticism of the raid.

Officials Brief House Panel
On U.S. Bird Flu Preparations

By Brian Knowlton

A top government health official said Thursday that the United States was only about “50 percent” prepared for an avian flu pandemic, prompting lawmakers to call for much more vigorous action to stop the spread of the disease before it arrives here.

In a congressional hearing on international preparations for a pandemic, lawmakers pressed the official, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to quantify the state of the nation’s preparedness. “I would venture to say we are less than 50 percent,” Gerberding said, “but we are 100 percent more prepared than we were three years ago.” She and other experts told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that preparations could take months or years.

President Bush drew attention to the prospects of a pandemic in October when he said he would ask Congress to spend $7.1 billion on bird-flu preparations. Congress has since allocated $3.3 billion, much of it to stockpile anti-viral drugs. The administration has said it would ask for an additional $2.65 billion for 2007.