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Briefs (right)

U.S. Diplomat Is Among Four Dead In Karachi Suicide Blast

By Salman Masood

Four people, including a U.S. diplomat, were killed Thursday when a powerful bomb triggered by a suicide bomber went off in the southern port city of Karachi, according to Pakistani officials. The attack came just two days before President Bush is to visit Pakistan, but Bush said in New Delhi Thursday that he would continue with his trip nevertheless.

The blast occurred at 9:05 a.m. local time near the U.S. consulate and a Marriott Hotel in an upscale area of Karachi, the country’s largest city and a commercial hub. Forty-five people were injured in the attack, government officials said.

Pakistani officials said a vehicle was intercepted by Rangers as it tried to ram into the diplomat’s vehicle near the consulate. The massive explosion rocked the neighborhood; the attacker’s vehicle was completely destroyed, and the vehicle of the diplomat was thrown into the air and then tumbled over.

Belarus Opposition Candidate Injured in Melee With Police

By Steven Lee Myers

Security officers in Belarus on Thursday arrested a candidate running against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko in the March 19 election, setting off a brawl in which the opposition candidate was punched and suffered a bruised face and a broken lip.

The injured challenger, Aleksandr V. Kazulin, was released by the police more than eight hours later, but not before his arrest prompted protests, more scuffles with the police and dozens more detentions in Minsk, the Belarus capital.

Police officers fired warning shots near the police station where Kazulin was being held, in an effort to stop a car carrying his supporters and a photographer, according to his spokeswoman, Nina Shidlovskaya, and the election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Today it was shown that the president is extremely afraid of his own people,” Kazulin said in a telephone interview after his release on Thursday evening. “We call on the world community to issue a strict protest against the fact that in the center of Europe a dictatorship is metastasizing.”

European Bank Raises Rates Again

By Mark Landler

With Europe seemingly on firm economic footing, the European Central Bank on Thursday raised interest rates for the second time in three months and signaled more increases to come.

The decision, which had been widely expected, lifted the bank’s benchmark rate by a quarter-point, to 2.5 percent — a level that its president, Jean-Claude Trichet, noted was still “very low.”

Pointing to the bank’s new growth forecasts, which were revised upward from December, Trichet sounded confident that European economies were shaking off their long economic slumber. Rising oil prices, though, have pushed up inflation, which Trichet said warranted tighter credit.

“The decision reflects the upside risks to price stability,” he said at a news conference in Frankfurt, adding later, “We did not decide today, ex ante, on a series of monthly rate increases.”

Those words were a deliberate echo of Trichet’s guarded tone in December, when the bank raised rates for the first time in five years. By giving little hint of the timing of the next increase, Trichet has left the bank’s 18-member governing council a degree of flexibility.

The euro rose against the dollar Thursday, settling at $1.2033 in New York, up from $1.1915 late Tuesday, as currency markets reflected the likelihood of tighter monetary policy. Economists generally expect the bank to act again in June, and nothing Trichet said threw that into doubt.

Panel to Expand Inquiry
On Surveillance

By Eric Lichtblau

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee agreed Thursday to expand their inquiry into the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program, but Republicans rejected a broader effort by Democrats for President Bush to turn over detailed White House records on the operation.

The developments reflected continued uncertainty in Congress over whether lawmakers should authorize the surveillance program, or seek to rein in an operation that Democrats contend is illegal.

As the committee begins its review, some Republicans are even questioning whether the surveillance program, which was approved by Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks, is needed.

“It doesn’t make any sense to fight to keep a program that isn’t doing anything,” Rep. Heather A. Wilson, R-N.M., who sits on the committee, said in an interview.

“Is the program useful?” she asked. “We just don’t know at this point.”