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“At this point, it looks like it was an improvised explosive device worn by an attacker,” General Myers told reporters at the Pentagon, suggesting an insurgent had infiltrated the US base before detonating the bomb.

The attack on a US Army canteen in Mosul, northern Iraq, has been reported to have killed 22 people, of which, according to Gen. Myers, 13 were American soldiers.

Others were US civilians and members of the Iraqi security forces, and 72 people were wounded.

The huge explosion ripped through the base’s dining hall when staff were seated for lunch.

The military was in the process of replacing the canvas mess hall with a more secure facility at the time of the attack.

Bill Nemitz, an embedded US newspaper reporter, said soldiers previously had expressed concerns about the “soft-skinned” dining facility which resembled a canvas-covered aircraft hanger.

The attack has led to more criticism being leveled at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, specifically how security could have been breached and troops left vulnerable.

He said he was “truly saddened” anyone could think he was not laboring to protect US combat troops.

An uncharacteristically subdued Mr Rumsfeld addressed his critics with an unprompted statement at the start of a Pentagon briefing, and said he stayed awake a night worrying about America’s fighting men and women.

A curfew has been imposed in Mosul as US troops track insurgents throughout the town.

Mosul’s governor Duraid Kashmula announced the closure of all bridges across the Tigris River, which divides the city from east to west.

Anyone who tried to use them was “putting his life in danger”, he warned.

ABC News, quoting unidentified sources, reported that “a backpack found by investigators at the site and remnants of a torso indicate the attack was caused by a suicide bombing”.

Al-Qaeda linked militants who claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack in Mosul said it was a suicide bombing against “American crusaders”.

US President George W Bush mourned the victims but said they died serving a “vital mission for peace” to build a democracy in the violence-plagued country, and vowed that the attack would not derail that goal.

The four civilians killed were from the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, company spokeswoman Wendy Hall said. Sixteen Halliburton employees, 12 of them subcontractors, were seriously wounded in the attack, she said.

Meanwhile, US construction firm Contrack International has announced it is pulling out of a US$325m contract to rebuild Iraq’s transport infrastructure, citing security fears. A spokesperson for the Washington-based company said it was “just too dangerous to continue”.

Mosul has been under a night-time curfew since November 11 when insurgents rose up in revolt against the coalition, giving credence to warnings the city had become a base for the country’s most-wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In October, Iraqi intelligence chief Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani said Mosul had become a major base for militants linked to the Jordanian-linked fugitive Zarqawi, who has a 25-million-dollar price on his head.

The third-largest city in Iraq was once considered a success story of the US presence in the country, but has been transformed into a battleground between insurgents and US forces.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned that it would be “a mistake” to think that deadly chaos in Iraq will subside after elections scheduled for January 30.

“I think looking for a peaceful Iraq after the elections would be a mistake. I think our expectations level ought to be realistic about that,” Mr Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

“These folks have a lot to lose: The extremists and terrorists and the people who are determined to try to take back that country are determined not to lose,” he said.

Speaking at the same briefing, the chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers agreed that violence in Iraq would not end after the elections, but said they would be an important political milestone.

“I’m not saying there’s not going to be a lot of challenges after January 30. That will not be a panacea either, but it will be a very important step in legitimising the Iraqi government, de-legitimising the insurgents,” said Gen. Myers.

Nine Palestinians have been killed this week in an upsurge of violence.

After weeks of bargaining, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office announced a deal that would see Labour party leader Shimon Peres serve as his number two in the new coalition.

“Peres will be named as number two to the prime minister and will be considered the most important member of the cabinet after the head of government,” the announcement said.

Mr Sharon, who has been without a parliamentary majority for the past six months, won approval earlier this month from the central committee of his Likud party to bring centre-left Labour into a new broad-based coalition.

The government’s formation had been delayed after Mr Peres asked to be given a deputy prime minister position. Israel’s basic law provides for just one such position which is already filled by Ehud Olmert.

However under a compromise deal, Mr Olmert will retain his title and assume Mr Sharon’s duties if he becomes incapacitated, even though Mr Peres has seniority in cabinet.

Labour will have eight cabinet seats in all, two of them without portfolio.

Mr Peres, the 81-year-old Nobel peace prize winner and former prime minister, has given his backing to Mr Sharon’s plans to evacuate settlers from Gaza and four isolated settlement blocs in the northern West Bank next year.

Deadly violence flared in southern Gaza Thursday, with nine killed during an Israeli raid aimed at thwarting militant attacks on nearby Jewish settlements.

Four Palestinians died Thursday evening when a rocket was fired from an Israeli drone in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, medics said.

Three of them were said to have belonged to the Abu Rish Brigades, an armed group linked to Fatah.

Earlier, Osama Tuma, 17, a Palestinian teenager with Down’s Syndrome, was fatally hit by bursts of automatic weapon fire and another 17-year-old, Mohammed Abu al-Said, was also killed by Israeli fire.

Three militants, two from the armed wing of the hardline Hamas and one from the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades linked to the mainstream Fatah party, were killed overnight in the refugee camp.

“Our troops will continue the operation in that area until firing against the Gush Katif (settlement) bloc stops,” General Avi Kochavi, the commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, told army radio.

The latest deaths bring the overall toll since the September 2000 start of the Palestinian uprising to 4,656, including 3,611 Palestinians and 970 Israelis.

Mr Olmert has, meanwhile, sparked controversy when he said Israel would have to follow up the Gaza pullout with a much larger withdrawal from the West Bank.

The current plans would see just 250 settlers evacuated from isolated enclaves in the north of the territory, a relatively small figure compared with the 240,000 settlers who would remain elsewhere.

“There is no option of sitting and doing nothing. Israel’s interest requires a disengagement on a wider scale than what will happen as part of the current disengagement plan,” Mr Olmert told the Jerusalem Post.

His comments were disavowed by Mr Sharon’s office which underscored that Israel has no intention of carrying out additional redeployments after Gaza, army radio said.

Mr Sharon originally intended to implement disengagement on a unilateral basis but has since indicated a willingness to coordinate the Gaza pullout with the new Palestinian leadership emerging since the death of his arch enemy Yasser Arafat on November 11.

Meanwhile, Palestinian presidential favourite Mahmud Abbas was given a hero’s welcome in Jenin by militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs, including its leader Zakaria Zubeidi, who is one of Israel’s most wanted men.

Zubeidi and other Brigades members carried Abbas on their shoulders as he visited a cemetery in Jenin’s refugee camp where the victims of a massive Israeli raid in early 2002 are buried.

In a speech before some 10,000 supporters, Abbas promised to “continue the peace offensive begun by Yasser Arafat and continue on the same path to recover the rights of our people.”

Abbas’s speech was interrupted on a number of occasions when Al-Aqsa fighters unleashed volleys of gunfire into the air.

The minister has been caught up in a scandal concerning the payment of airfares for two indigenous leaders to accompany her on a visit to Palm Island, off the north Queensland coast, on December 17.

Murrandoo Yanner and Brad Foster were invited to join the minister, with Mr Yanner travelling as far as Townsville while Mr Foster completed the journey.

Ms Clark was visiting the island to broker an Aboriginal Management Plan agreement with the local indigenous community, which has come under the spotlight after violence flared on Palm Island following the death in police custody of an Aboriginal man one month ago.

The state opposition and police union expressed criticism over the inclusion of Mr Yanner on the trip, as he is being investigated for inciting violence against Queensland police following a riot on Palm Island last month.

Mr Yanner has accused Ms Clark’s senior adviser, Bruce Picard, of asking him to lie about an agreement that the government would pay for his flights, claims vigorously denied by the minister.

Earlier this week, Ms Clark was ordered by Premier Peter Beattie to pay for the $1,775 airfare costs out of her own pocket.

Mr Foster, the chief executive of the Carpentaria Land Council, has broken four days of silence on the matter to support Mr Yanner’s statements, saying that he will be informing the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) about a disturbing phone call he received from one of Ms Clark’s senior advisers urging him to lie about the tickets.

CMC chairman Brendan Butler said if the allegations are proven, could amount to official misconduct.

The opposition has demanded that Ms Clark, who is currently taking three weeks leave, to stand down while the CMC examines the allegations.

However, Queensland’s Police Minister Judy Spence has denounced the investigation as a waste of public funds.

“I think another investigation of this nature is probably going to be a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Ms Spence said in reference to a prior CMC investigation of Ms Clark and her department.

Earlier this year, the CMC looked into the so-called Winegate affair, in which a bottle of wine was found on a state government jet carrying the minister to the alcohol-restricted community of Lockhart River on March 3.

Ms Clark denied any knowledge of the wine and a subsequent investigation led to the sacking of her then-adviser Teresa Mullan, who maintained Ms Clark knew of the bottle.

Ms Mullan was later reinstated.

The athletics ruling body said it was not satisfied with explanations given by the pair and their coach, Christos Tzerkos, about why three doping tests were missed in the lead up to the Athens Olympic Games in August.

Kenteris and Thanou failed to turn up for scheduled tests in Chicago and Tel Aviv shortly before the 2004 Games.

Then, in dramatic circumstances involving a motor cycle accident that is now thought to have been faked, they missed a third doping test in Athens on August 12, the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony.

“In each case, the IAAF has concluded that the explanation provided is unacceptable in response to the charges made,” a statement from the world athletics organisation read.

“Accordingly, the IAAF has notified the Greek Federation (SEGAS) that both athletes and their coach are provisionally suspended pending the resolution of their cases.”

The two stars of Greek athletics rose to prominence at the Sydney Olympic Games four years ago, when Kenteris took gold in the men’s 200m and Thanou won silver in the women’s 100m.

However, they have since been under a cloud and will now face a tribunal in Greece to examine their absences from drugs tests.

“A hearing for each individual will now be convened before the relevant disciplinary tribunal of the Greek Federation to determine whether doping violations have been committed,” the IAAF document stated.

A lawyer acting for Kenteris and Thanou lashed out at the IAAF’s decision.

“The IAAF have got it wrong, we haven’t flouted any procedure, and we’ll prove that in front of the Greek athletic federation’s disciplinary committee which will be meeting soon,” Michaelis Dimitrakopoulos said.

Their coach also insisted that neither he nor the two sprinters had anything to hide.

In addition, Greek prosecutors have laid separate charges against Kenteris and Thanou for allegedly staging a fake motorbike crash which saw them spend four days in hospital and avoid questioning from the IAAF in August.

Medical staff have also been charged with writing false reports.

The UK introduced the controversial anti terror legislation soon after the September 11th attacks.

But the Law Lords ruled by an eight to one majority the legislation breached Britain’s human rights obligations.

The country’s British human rights groups called for the immediate release of the nine men detained under the legislation.

Some have been imprisoned for nearly three years, prompting campaigners to call the detainee situation Britain’s Guantanamao Bay.

Lord Bingham said the section of the anti-terrorism Act under which the men were held breached the European Convention because it “permits detention of suspected international terrorists in a way that discriminates on the ground of nationality or immigration status”.

In his ruling, Lord Nicholls said “indefinite imprisonment … deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford.”

He said the main weakness in the Government’s case of opting out the Convention’s right to a fair trial lay in the different treatment of nationals and non-nationals.

“It is difficult to see how the extreme circumstances, which alone would justify such detention, can exist when lesser protective steps apparently suffice in the case of British citizens suspected of being international terrorists.”

However, the government continues to take a tough stand on the issue.

In his first day in the job following David Blunkett’s resignation, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the men would remain in prison and that the illegal measures would “remain in force” until the law was reviewed and possibly modified next year.

Solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represents eight of the detainees, said if there was no swift government action, the detainees could ask the European Court of Human Rights to get involved.

She claimed the detention had driven four of the detainees to “madness”, saying two were being held in a hospital prison.

In a statement from his prison, detainee ‘A’ said: “I hope now that the government will act upon this decision, scrap this illegal ‘law’ and release me and the other internees to return to our families and loved ones.”

The detainees took their case to the House of Lords after the Court of Appeal backed the government’s powers to hold them without limit or charge.

The principles have been drawn up by a joint national group incorporating commercial, recreational and indigenous stakeholders.

The tribunal’s co-chair John Catlin welcomed the agreement as a step forward for the fisheries industry which has been beset by law suits between various parties in the absence of common principles.

“The commercial fishing industry’s sick to death of litigation, they don’t want to spend more money on court cases and arguments in, you know, in the Federal Court about native title rights, but they are much more interested in working with Aboriginal people to see community development take place, to build partnerships with them on commercial development,” Mr Catlin said.

The National Indigenous Fishing Technical Working Group was set up in October 2003.

Since then, a number of meetings have been held bringing together representatives from the seafood industries, recreational fishing, indigenous fishing, native title, and state and federal government natural resource managers.

Mr Catlin said the formalisation of principles would bring Australia closer to the level of recognition experienced by indigenous populations in countries such as New Zealand and Canada.

‘There’s been a realisation that just basic subsistence fishing has to be protected alongside the rights of everyone else,” Mr Catlin said.

The timing of the announcement coincides with the signing of a landmark traditional hunting agreement in Cape York between the Angumothimaree indigenous owners, and parks and wildlife authorities.

The agreement allows the Angumothimaree to have greater control over turtle and dugong hunting and includes a permit system covering use of the Pine River near Weipa.

Hunting will be restricted to four months between December and March with catches limited to one male turtle or male dugong.

Permits will only be issued for cultural reasons.

“It’s taken around two years, but now that we have got a template to work off the others should be a lot quicker and a lot smoother,” Queensland Parks spokesman Brian Singleton said.

There have already been expressions of interest from other communities about negotiating similar deals.

“There has been interest at the next river system the Mission River and there’s also been interest on the east coast at Lockhart and the Lama Lama people down around the Princess Charlotte Bay area have also expressed interest in looking at a community-based management plan,” Mr Singleton added.

Last month, Federal Fisheries Minister Ian Macdonald signalled an immediate review of indigenous harvesting of dugongs after the release of a report detailing unsustainable levels of hunting in Australian waters.

Dugong expert Helene Marsh estimated that about 1,000 of the sea mammals were killed in the Torres Strait each year, a figure 10 times above what is considered a sustainable level.

In light of fears the dugong is facing extinction, the Fisheries Minister said the federal government would be working very closely with indigenous communities to tighten control over hunting practices.

The bodies were found in a psychiatric ward at the weekend in the southern town of Pau. One had been beheaded while the other had her throat slit.

Police have released an ex-patient held for questioning, the sixth suspect detained and freed since the deaths.

Mr Chirac said whoever was behind the “savage murders” would be punished.

“We need better co-ordination, better support of the [mentally] ill and improved security in hospitals. This is a major imperative,” he was said through a spokesperson.

Hospitals in France have observed a minute’s silence in memory of Chantal Klimaszewski, 48, and Lucette Gariod, 40, whose bodies were found on Saturday.

Staff turning up for the day shift found evidence of a break-in and a 20-metre long trail of blood.

The head of one of the nurses had been placed on top of a television set.

Police released without charge a former patient at the institution who was arrested in the south-western town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Five other people, one of them also a former patient, were detained on Saturday before being released.

Staff held a vigil outside the hospital in memory of their colleagues.

Some demanded that the unit where the murders took place be closed.

Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says new security measures will be implemented within the next few weeks.

He said full details of the new measures, will be announced in February after a judicial enquiry.

One of the proposals under consideration includes installing an alarm system from psychiatric hospitals and emergency wards to local police stations.

This comes as US military officials said the two neighbouring countries’ influence in post-Saddam Iraq is hard to assess.

“We will continue to make it clear, to both Syria and Iran, that — as will other nations in our coalition, including our friends the Italians — that meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interest,” said Mr Bush at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

His warning comes after Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan accused Syria and Iran of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Iraq, in particular branding Tehran the “most dangerous enemy of Iraq”.

But the deputy commander of the US Central Command said, however, the extent of either country’s activities in Iraq is unclear because “our intelligence functions on that side of the border are very, very difficult.”

“So there is influence, there is an intent for Iran to influence things there,” said Lieutenant General Lance Smith.

As for Syria, he noted President Bashar Al-Assad’s categorical statements that he would not support those supporting the insurgency in Iraq, and reports that Syria has arrested between 1,000 and 2,000 people crossing the border.

Iraqi authorities and US-led forces are battling to flatten Iraq’s deadly insurgency ahead of general elections next month — the first multi-party polls in the country in half a century.

“Iran is the most dangerous enemy of Iraq and all Arabs,” said Mr Shaalan.

“The source of terrorism in Iraq is Iran.”

“Terrorism is Iraq is orchestrated by Iranian intelligence, Syrian intelligence and Saddam (Hussein) loyalists, in collaboration with Zarqawi,” Shaalan said of Iraq’s most-wanted man, Islamist fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Asked about those charges, Mr Bush replied: “We have made it very clear to the countries in the neighbourhood, including the two you mention, that we expect there to be help in establishing a society in which people are able to elect their leaders.”

Meanwhile, the head of Iraq’s telecommunications company has been shot dead by armed men as he was driving to work in Baghdad.

Gunmen reportedly pulled up alongside Kassim Imhawi’s car and opened fire.

Mr Imhawi was the director general of the Communications Ministry and regarded as one of the minister’s top aides.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warned his government earlier this week that insurgents were likely to wage a stepped-up campaign of violence and intimidation in the run-up to Iraq’s election, set for January 30.

Researchers from the University of Wales said the man, identified only as patient X, has suffered two strokes which have damaged the areas of the brain which process visual signals, leaving him completely blind.

Yet, his eyes and optic nerves have remained intact and brain scans showed that he appears to use another part of his brain when shown images linked to displays of human emotion.

When shown images of circles and squares, patient X could only guess at what he was being presented with.

But when handed angry or happy human faces his accuracy improved to 59 percent, a rate far better than would be expected from relying purely on chance.

Patient X scored similarly when asked to distinguish between sad and happy, or fearful and happy human faces.

Tests revealed that when the man looked at faces expressing emotion, a part of his brain called the right amygdala became active, indicating that he was able to process information gathered by his eyes in a different part of the brain from his visual centre.

“This discovery is… interesting for behavioural scientists as the right amygdala has been associated with subliminal processing of emotional stimuli in clinically healthy individuals,” said Dr Alan Pegna, who led the study.

“What patient X has assisted us in establishing is that this area undoubtedly processes visual facial signals connected with all types of emotional facial expressions.

The study, published in the Nature Neuroscience journal, found that when presented images of males and females without facial expressions, patient X could not tell apart the different genders.

The man was also unable to distinguish between pictures of animals that appeared either threatening or non-threatening.

“We have received proposals via certain channels for a larger involvement of Germany and the EU to solve the Chechnya problem,” President Putin said, speaking on his arrival in northern Germany.

President Putin, flanked by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said “We would like to accept them wholly and completely,” adding that the proposals, which he did not describe, had been “closely analysed in Moscow”.

A senior German official who asked not to be named said the proposals included a “project for dialogue” on Chechnya between Russia and Europe initiated by the German government’s Russian affairs coordinator, Gernot Erler, during a visit to Moscow in mid-November.

The dialogue would discuss the fostering of democracy, parliamentary powers and civil society in the context of the fight against terrorism.

Another German source said another of the “projects for dialogue” would cover economic development of the Caucasus and possible German and European Union efforts in this area.

The talks in Hamburg, attended by senior ministers from both countries, were originally scheduled for September but were postponed after the Beslan school hostage crisis in which at least 344 people were killed.

President Putin, said he was also prepared to discuss other urgent issues in Russian-EU relations including the Ukraine, press freedom and internal reforms in Russia.

Ties between Russia and the European Union have been strained since the November election in Ukraine in which President Putin vocally backed pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and went as far as to declare him the winner of the poll despite widespread reports of irregularities.

One German source said Chancellor Schroeder and President Putin had agreed to “wait for a re-run” of the Ukrainian vote and “respect its result”.

A German source said the talks also covered the controversial sell-off of key assets of the stricken Yukos oil group.

Germany has become increasingly dependent on Russian oil and gas, a factor that has drawn the wartime foes closer together in recent years. The source said Chancellor Schroeder and President Putin would discuss a number of business deals in those industries.

The leaders, who enjoy warm personal ties, met for nearly two hours and followed up their talks with a private dinner. They are to continue their talks in a castle in the town of Schleswig.