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Absences hamper Darfur peace talks

SIRTE, Libya — Crippled by the absence of Darfur rebel leaders, U.N.-brokered peace talks ground to a halt Sunday, with officials saying there could be no key steps until the fighters decided how to negotiate with the Sudanese government.

The U.N. and African Union joint mediation team refused to say the conference was being adjourned, insisting instead that preliminary low-level talks were part of meeting’s first phase before full-fledged negotiations could begin.

No major Darfur rebel chiefs were present in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte for the opening of the talks Saturday, dashing hopes that a quick peace agreement could be reached to end more than four years of fighting with the Sudanese government.

Activists: Japanese fire at Chinese boat

HONG KONG — Japanese patrol vessels fired water cannon Sunday at a boat carrying Chinese activists who were protesting Japanese claims to territory in the East China Sea, the activist group said.

A boat carrying the protesters arrived near the five disputed islets — known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Senkaku in Japan — on Sunday evening, according to the activists’ group, the Hong Kong-registered China Federation of Defending Diaoyu Islands.

The activists’ spokesman in Beijing, Li Nan, said the boat came to within eight miles of Diaoyu Island.

“The Japanese used water cannon to disperse the boat to around 12 nautical miles (13 miles) away. They are now standing off in the waters,” Li told The Associated Press.

The dispute over the islets, which lie between Taiwan and Okinawa, is one of many that have strained ties between Japan and China. The island chain is surrounded by fishing grounds and is regularly occupied by nationalists of both sides.

Vatican beatifies 498 martyrs

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Sunday staged its largest mass beatification ceremony ever, putting 498 victims of religious persecution before and during Spain’s civil war on the path to possible sainthood.

Seventy-one bishops from Spain, a host of Spanish politicians and Spanish pilgrims massed in St. Peter’s Square for the ceremony, which came at a particularly delicate time for Spain as it takes an unprecedented look at its past.

Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared the 498 beatified after reading out their names from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica at the start of the Mass.

Turkish troops kill 15 Kurdish guerrillas

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish troops killed 15 Kurdish guerrillas in fighting Sunday far from the increasingly tense Iraq border region where some of the separatists have sought refuge, a news report said. Turkey’s prime minister called for unity between Turks and Kurds against the rebels.

The clash occurred in the mainly Kurdish province of Tunceli, which is not near the border with Iraq where most of the recent clashes have occurred. The governor’s office for Tunceli confirmed there was fighting in the province but would not confirm casualty figures. The private Dogan news agency reported the deaths of 15 rebels.

The government-run Anatolia news agency said the fighting began Sunday morning and the Turkish troops were backed by helicopter gunships. Security forces shut down a major highway leading to Pulumur, it said. It did not mention casualties.

Israel cuts Gaza’s fuel supplies

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel began cutting vital fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, following through on a promise to step up pressure on the territory’s Hamas rulers after months of Palestinian rocket attacks.

Dor Alon, the Israeli energy company that sells fuel to Gaza, confirmed it received instructions from the Israeli Defense Ministry to reduce shipments.

Last month the Israeli government declared Gaza a “hostile entity” and approved the plan for cutoffs as a response to near-daily rocket attacks by Gaza militants. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the final go-ahead last week.

Report: 2 arrested in royal blackmail

LONDON — A newspaper reported that police have arrested two men over an attempt to blackmail a member of the British royal family with an alleged sex tape.

In response to queries about the report, London police said only that two men, 30 and 40, had appeared at a London court Sept. 13 charged with blackmail. They were ordered detained until a hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court on Dec. 20. The force would give no details of the case or identify the suspects.

Buckingham Palace said it would have no comment on what it described as “a police matter.”

Battles intensify near Taliban area

KABUL, Afghanistan — Days after Taliban fighters overran Musa Qala, a U.S. commander pledged that Western troops would take it back. Nine months later, the town is still Taliban territory, a symbol of the West’s struggles to control the poppy-growing south.

But a string of recent battles around Musa Qala, won overwhelmingly by American Special Forces, signal a renewed U.S. focus on the symbolic Taliban stronghold.

An Afghan army commander said Sunday that U.S. and Afghan forces have taken over the area around the town and that Afghan commanders are holding talks with Musa Qala’s tribal leaders to persuade them to expel the Arab, Chechen and Uzbek foreign fighters who roam its streets alongside the Taliban militants.

Compiled From Wire Reports

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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