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Blast in Fallujah Damages Sunni Party’s Main Office

A leading Sunni political party’s headquarters in western Iraq was blown up early Thursday morning while in southern Iraq, where Shiite factions have been fighting one another, a powerful bomb was discovered on the road to an important Shiite shrine.

Both episodes pointed to probable tensions in the months ahead of provincial elections in which factions are fighting hard to ensure that they have a place at the political table.

The explosion of the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, happened about 6 a.m., according to witnesses, who said the American military had been near the site of the bombing until about an hour before the detonation.

The Fallujah City Council blamed the Americans for the blast, saying it had also damaged a health center next door. Iraqi Islamic Party members were more circumspect.

“We cannot accuse anyone because we do not have enough information,” said Abid al-Kareem al-Sammaraie, an Iraqi Islamic Party member who serves in Parliament.

“Our information is that the American forces were in the same place as the explosion,” Sammaraie said. “We need more information to figure out who is behind that explosion.”

Veterans Affairs Ban on Voter Drives Is Criticized

Voting rights groups are criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs for its decision to ban registration drives among the veterans living at federally run nursing homes, homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers across the country.

The groups say that such drives make it easier for veterans to register and participate in the political process, which could be particularly important this year in a presidential election in which the handling of the Iraq war and treatment of veterans will be major campaign issues.

Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters, said: “It just seems wrong to the league that the VA is erecting barriers to voter registration for our nation’s veterans. They appear to be using technicalities to block many veterans from registering to vote.”

Although veterans are not federal employees, department officials based their decision in part on the Hatch Act, which bans federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

The department’s policy is “to assist patients who seek to exercise their right to register and vote,” according to a VA directive issued on May 5. “However, due to Hatch Act requirements and to avoid disruptions to facility operations, voter registration drives are not permitted.”

Matt Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the department “wanted to ensure that our staff remains focused on caring for our veterans instead of having to determine the political agenda of each group that might try to enter our facilities.”

EU Accuses U.S. of Wrongful Biodiesel Subsidies

The European Union on Thursday accused U.S. producers of biodiesel of benefiting from subsidies that threaten to put European producers out of business.

Biofuels are controversial because of accusations that they raise food prices and do little to fight global warming.

But they are also a big business, with sales of about 8 billion euros ($12.3 billion) annually in Europe. European Union trade officials say producers in Europe are at risk because of a tax credit that is granted to American exporters.

The commission said it would begin a formal antidumping investigation on Friday that could lead to the imposition of punitive tariffs.

The commission “will leave no stone unturned in this investigation and will act in accordance with its findings,” said Peter Power, a spokesman for Peter Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner.

The European Union said the suspect subsidies consisted of federal excise and income tax credits along with a federal program of grants for increases in production.

Six More States Report Illnesses From Tomatoes

The tainted-tomato outbreak has spread to six more states, federal health officials said Thursday, even as they acknowledged to lawmakers that they had yet to nail down major aspects of a food-safety plan released seven months ago.

A total of 228 people in 23 states have been reported sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes, said Dr. David Acheson, associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration. The new states with cases are Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Vermont.

Earlier on Thursday, Acheson told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing that the agency needed six to eight more weeks before it could provide details about the safety plan’s specific measures, their timetables and their costs.

Even then, he said, he was uncertain that he would be able to provide a budget for food safety-related measures that went beyond the next fiscal year.

Federal lawmakers, who have pushed the agency for months to specify what it will do to prevent outbreaks of food poisoning and trace the sources of those that occur, criticized the agency as failing to protect the nation’s food supply.

“How could you put forth a plan for food safety for the nation and have no idea what it would cost after the first year of implementation?” asked Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee. “How could you put forth a proposal to protect the American people and not even know what it’s going to cost?”