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Group says it killed reporter

MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2007

A previously unknown Palestinian group said Sunday it had killed a British journalist kidnapped over a month ago by gunmen in Gaza City, but the claim could not be verified.

In a statement sent to news organizations, “The brigades of Tawheed and Jihad” said it killed BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, 42, to support demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. However, the BBC and the Palestinian government both said there was no evidence to back up the claim.

Johnston, from Scotland, was snatched at gunpoint in Gaza City on March 12. Since then there had been no demands from his captors or any word on his condition.


Pope celebrates 80th birthday

Pope Benedict gave thanks for his 80 years of life dedicated to the Church with a special Sunday Mass, a celebration tinged with nostalgia which drew a huge crowd to St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican had invited rank-and-file faithful to the late-morning Mass on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica to help the pontiff celebrate both his 80th birthday today and the anniversary of his April 19, 2005, election to the pontificate.

Joseph Ratzinger, who would take the name of Benedict as pontiff, was born April 16, 1927, in Marktl Am Inn, a riverside town in the Bavaria region of Germany.

Thousands of pilgrims from Bavaria attended the Mass.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Sudan reportedly signs Darfur deal

Sudan has signed a joint agreement with the United Nations and the African Union that defines their respective roles in Darfur, the official Saudi news agency reported on Sunday.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir phoned Saudi King Abdullah and told him the Sudanese government had signed the agreement, the SPA news agency reported.

It quoted the king as saying the agreement “will support Sudan’s unity, security, stability and peace.”

No additional details were provided.

In New York, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said she could not immediately confirm the Saudi report.


Ecuadoreans back political overhaul

Leftist President Rafael Correa scored a major victory Sunday as Ecuadoreans voted overwhelmingly to support his ambitious plan to remake the nation’s system of government and weaken its discredited Congress, an exit poll showed.

Voters across this small Andean nation turned out to cast ballots on the need for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution – a measure many hope will bring economic improvement to their lives.

An exit poll by CEDATOS- Gallup showed that 78.1 percent of voters approved the election of a constitutional assembly while 11.5 percent rejected the proposal and 10.4 spoiled their ballots or cast blank ones.

Official results will not be available for five days.


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