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Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A19

Kyrgyz President, in Moscow, Signs Letter of Resignation

MOSCOW -- Kyrgyzstan's president signed a letter of resignation Monday in Moscow, where he fled after opposition supporters stormed government buildings and seized power last month, according to Kyrgyz lawmakers, who flew here to negotiate a legal end to the revolt that roiled the Central Asian republic.

Askar Akayev formally stepped down during a private ceremony at his country's embassy here. His resignation clears the way for new presidential elections on June 26.

The lawmakers said Akayev, 60, planned to return to his work as a scientist and would no longer be involved in politics. Akayev recorded an address to his nation of 5 million that will be played during a parliamentary session Tuesday and then broadcast on television.

In the address, he spoke of his achievements over 14 1/2 years of rule, asked for people's forgiveness and wished them a democratic future, according to Bermet Bukasheva, an aide to Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, who led the negotiations in Moscow.

-- Peter Finn

The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Security forces battled the biggest group of Islamic militants they have faced in a nearly two-year anti-terrorism campaign, killing seven in a gun battle and cornering up to 10 others in an isolated desert town, Saudi officials said.

The forces were besieging the building in which the remaining militants were holed up and hoped to take them alive, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

During the two-day gun battle, police had to seal off a girls' elementary school in Ar Rass in central Saudi Arabia, 220 miles northwest of the capital. When the fighting quieted, the teachers and students were evacuated, the spokesman said.

BEIRUT -- Syria's pledge to withdraw all of its troops from Lebanon by April 30 and end a 29-year military presence there will meet U.N. Security Council demands, a U.N. envoy said as he met with pro-Syrian Lebanese leaders.

Syrian President Bashar Assad told the envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, on Sunday that his country's remaining 8,000 soldiers and intelligence agents would leave Lebanon by the end of the month. Syria's official SANA news agency reported that the final phase of the ongoing withdrawal would begin Thursday.

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon again pledged to expand a large Jewish settlement near Jerusalem, drawing White House opposition and Palestinian concern about his territorial intentions after a Gaza pullout.

"I don't see construction in the E-1 area as a serious problem," Sharon, referring to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, was quoted as telling lawmakers at a closed-door session.

"We must link Jerusalem to Maale Adumim," he said. Palestinians say they fear Israeli construction in the area of the settlement would cut them off from the eastern part of the holy city.

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