The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq has prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment further on how the government determined those statistics.
Such assessments run counter to the overall trend detailed in a recent report by the Iraqi Red Crescent, which said the number of internally displaced people had more than quadrupled over the past year, reaching 2.3 million by the end of September.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, also said that al-Qaida in Iraq, a largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group, has been essentially defeated in the city. But he added: “Given a chance, they would come back swinging.”
More feared dead from mudslide
The death toll from a massive mudslide that destroyed a village in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas rose to four, the governor said Wednesday, as rescue workers searched for an additional 21 missing villagers.
Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines said three women and a man died in the wave of mud and water late Sunday, and it was unlikely the 21 missing villagers would be found alive.
State civil defense officials had earlier reported finding three bodies after a hillside collapsed into a river near the tiny town of San Juan Grijalva, home to about 600 people.
Civil Protection officials previously had estimated that from 12 to 14 people were missing but increased the number after interviewing neighbors and family members in the area.
Gunmen open fire on Chavez foes
Gunmen opened fire on students returning from a march Wednesday in which 80,000 people denounced President Hugo Chavez’s attempts to expand his power. At least eight people were injured, including one by gunfire, officials said.
Photographers for the Associated Press saw at least four gunmen – their faces covered by ski masks or T-shirts – firing handguns at the anti-Chavez crowd.
National Guard troops gathered outside the Central University of Venezuela. Venezuelan law bars state security forces from entering the campus, but Luis Acuna, the minister of higher education, said they could be called in if the university requests them.
The violence broke out after anti-Chavez demonstrators – led by university students – marched peacefully to the Supreme Court to protest constitutional changes that Venezuelans will consider in a December referendum.
The amendments being protested would abolish presidential term limits, give the president control over the Central Bank and let him create new provinces governed by handpicked officials.