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Suicide car bomb in Shiite slum kills 17

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A suicide car bomber killed 17 Shiites in a teeming Sadr City market Wednesday while gunmen in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood shot a convoy of democracy workers, taking the lives of an American woman and three bodyguards.

The attack came one day after car bombings killed scores of university students just two miles away, indicating that al-Qaida-linked fighters are bent on a surge of bloodshed as U.S. and Iraqi forces gear up for a fresh neighborhood-by-neighborhood security sweep.

Although nobody claimed responsibility for either day’s car bombings, such attacks are the hallmark of Sunni militants, who appear to be taking advantage of a waiting period before the security crackdown to step up attacks on Shiites.

Two others were wounded, said Les Campbell, Middle East director of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. Names were withheld until families could be notified.

German chancellor calls for EU constitution by 2009

STRASBOURG, France – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday outlined an ambitious program for her country’s European Union presidency, saying the bloc must set a timetable for adopting an EU constitution.

Merkel told EU lawmakers during her first appearance at the EU assembly that a decision on what to do with the constitution must be reached by June. The constitution was ratified by 18 states but rejected in Dutch and French referendums in 2005.

Merkel said she would consult all 27 EU nations to hear their reservations about the landmark charter and to determine which parts can be rescued to form the basis of a new document.

Germany wants to save as much as possible of the draft text, which was designed to accelerate policy-making and give the EU, now with 489 million people, more visibility on the world stage by creating the posts of EU president and foreign minister.

“We need a foreign minister for Europe. That’s enough of a reason to adopt a constitutional treaty,” Merkel told the European Parliament, earning a standing ovation. “We must give a soul to Europe; we have to find Europe’s soul. Any failure could be a historic failure.”

Merkel also said that completing global trade talks would be one of the priorities of Germany’s six-month presidency, urging Europe to take a “resolute stand” to achieve a successful outcome.

She called for a broad partnership with Russia, but warned that the EU cannot ignore Russia’s squabbles with neighboring countries. She called Russia’s recent decision to cut oil exports in a dispute with neighboring Belarus worrying.

“We intend to do everything we can for a new partnership and cooperation agreement with Russia to begin under the German presidency,” she said. “We need reliable partnership with Russia.”

A dispute between Russia and Poland over a pipeline carrying Russian gas to Europe is holding up negotiations on a new EU-Russia accord. The issue is sensitive amid concerns in many EU nations that they are becoming too dependent on Moscow for oil and gas.

Danish editor of daily that printed prophet cartoons expects debate to continue

COPENHAGEN, DenmarK – An editor of a Danish newspaper that published the controversial prophet Muhammad cartoons said Wednesday he expects the debate about self-censorship in the media and artists’ fear of offending Islam to continue for years.

The Jyllands-Posten daily in 2005 published 12 drawings _ one of them showing Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Another portrayed him with a bushy gray beard and holding a sword.

The cartoons, which were reprinted in a range of Western media, triggered international protests across the Muslim world and attacks on Danish embassies in January 2006.

Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the newspaper _ one of Denmark’s biggest _ had asked Danish cartoonists to draw Muhammad. He reiterated that the decision to print the drawings was meant as a challenge to a perceived self-censorship, not to insult Muslims.

“The drawings have started a very important debate that will last for many, many years,” Rose told a news conference, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the cartoon crisis. “In the coming years, this will become a bigger discussion.”

Rose said he “felt provoked when I heard institutions, media and people in Western Europe were putting reins on themselves because they were afraid of offending Islam.”

He gave several examples, from art removed from exhibitions to standup comedians saying they didn’t want to poke fun at Islam. In 2004, Danish writer Kaare Bluitgen complained he could not find an illustrator for his children’s book about Muhammad, for fear of retaliation for depicting the prophet.

“It reminded me of what I had seen in the Soviet Union, where I saw a society where people were intimidated by the system,” said Rose, a correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s and 1990s.

Somali parliament votes out speaker linked to Islamic movement

MOGADISHU, Somalia – The Somali parliament stripped the speaker position Wednesday from a top lawmaker who was closely associated with the recently ousted Islamic movement, a move the European Union said was disappointing and could hurt reconciliation efforts in the restive country.

Diplomats said the fired speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, was capable of pulling together moderate elements in Somalia’s Islamic movement. Wednesday also saw the government’s disarmament efforts receive a boost with three major warlords handing over vehicles and men.

Deputy Speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore announced the move against Aden in proceedings broadcast live on HornAfrik Radio. Lawmakers cited his public criticism of a proposed African peacekeeping mission that parliament had endorsed and his meetings with Islamic movement leaders without authority from parliament.

Boqore said only nine of the lawmakers present voted against the motion. Voting in favor were 183 lawmakers – 44 more than required – in the 275-member parliament

Aden’s actions have been in “total violation of our transitional charter,” lawmaker Mohamoud Begos told The Associated Press by phone from Baidoa, where parliament is based.

Speaking from Rome, Aden said the lawmakers who voted against him were not acting freely.

“They have been ordered to vote me out by the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, who wants to rule Somalia through Ethiopian forces and through this parliament. The president wants to crack down on all those who are against him,” Aden said in a telephone interview. “I have been seeking reconciliation all over the world and this vote tries to destroy the very thing we have been looking for: reconciliation.”

Aden had made several freelance peace initiatives with Somalia’s Islamic movement before government forces _ backed by Ethiopian troops _ ousted them in December from the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia.

In Belgium on Wednesday, European Union spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tadio expressed disappointment at the Somali parliament’s move against Aden, who held meetings with EU officials in Belgium earlier this week.

“We saw him as a someone who could make a bridge with the moderate elements,” Altafaj said. “We had encouraged him to go back to Mogadishu to carry out his job and bring together as many political players as possible.”

‘Doomsday Clock’ moved closer to 12

LONDON – The world is nudging closer to nuclear or environmental apocalypse, a group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday as it pushed the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

The clock, which was set two minutes forward to 11:55, represents the likelihood of a global cataclysm.

It was the fourth time since the Soviet collapse in 1991 the clock ticked forward amid fears of “a second nuclear age” prompted by standoffs with Iran and North Korea. Warnings of climate change also played a role.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which sets the clock, was founded in 1945 as a newsletter distributed among nuclear physicists concerned about nuclear war, and midnight originally symbolized a widespread nuclear conflict. The bulletin has grown into an organization focused more generally on manmade threats to human civilization.

The Associated Press

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