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Israelis raid offices
in probe of PM

JERUSALEM —Police raided more than 20 government buildings and private offices Sunday morning, seeking evidence in a series of criminal investigations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, potentially weakening his position ahead of a crucial Mideast peace conference in the United States.

The early morning sweep came just as Olmert’s popularity, which plummeted after last year’s inconclusive war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, has begun to rebound.

The raid Sunday targeted more than 20 locations, including the Industry and Trade Ministry, the Postal Authority and Jerusalem’s City Hall, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

Few Arabs sign up
for national service

HAIFA, Israel — The young Israeli is a volunteer working with severely disabled children. He helps them to eat, dress, go to the bathroom. For this, he says, he has been branded a traitor.

That’s because 20-year-old Mohammed Abu Rumi is an Arab, and his work is part of his national service — an Israeli attempt to incorporate its Arab minority into mainstream society by letting them volunteer in schools and hospitals in lieu of military service from which almost all Israeli Arabs are exempted.

So far, it’s not working very well. Arab leaders are urging youths to reject the program, saying it’s window-dressing by a government unwilling to rectify decades of discrimination that have left half of Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens living in poverty.

Under such pressure, fewer than 300 signed up for national service this year, frustrating government officials.

N. Ireland group
renounces violence

DUBLIN, Ireland — The major Northern Ireland Protestant paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association, announced Sunday it was formally renouncing violence, but a commander said the group would not surrender its weapons to international disarmament officials.

The group, which has an estimated 3,000 members across hardline parts of Northern Ireland, has loosely observed a cease-fire since 1994, but until now has refused to surrender a single bullet or bomb — a major objective of a 1998 peace accord.

It is the last of Northern Ireland’s underground armies to renounce violence.

Pakistan: Elections
will be on schedule

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Sunday that Pakistan will stick to its January schedule for parliamentary elections but he set no time limit on emergency rule, raising grave doubts about whether the crucial vote can be free and fair.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, speaking two days after she was briefly put under house arrest, said the schedule for elections was “a first positive step,” but with an emergency in place, it would be “difficult” to campaign.

Other opposition parties said Musharraf’s sweeping powers, which have already led to thousands of arrests and a ban on rallies, would make a mockery of the democratic process.

U.N. envoy back in
Myanmar after ban

YANGON, Myanmar — A U.N. human rights envoy arrived Sunday in Myanmar on a mission to get inside the country’s prisons to determine the numbers of people killed and detained since the military regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N.’s independent rights investigator for Myanmar, had been barred from visiting the country since November 2003. He has said he will abandon his visit unless he gets full support from the junta.

Pinheiro has submitted a proposed itinerary for his visit to the Myanmar government, which was still being “fine-tuned,” said Aye Win, a U.N. spokesman in Myanmar.

The Associated Press

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

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