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Militant Suspects Fight Officers Near Mecca

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Suspected Islamic militants disguised as women and dressed in the garb of Muslim pilgrims fought a deadly gun battle with Saudi security forces Thursday night on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Two suspects and two security officers died in the shootout, and four police officers were wounded, the statement said. Cars caught fire and burned at the site of the shooting while worshipers at Mecca's nearby Holy Mosque, Islam's most sacred site, were cordoned inside as a precaution until the battle ended, according to residents who communicated by telephone and text message from the city.

The incident was the latest in a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia carried out since May 2003 by small bands of suspected al Qaeda-inspired militants. Fifteen such radicals died in a prolonged gun battle with security forces in the north-central province of Qassim this month.

Sporadic attacks have also spread this year to the neighboring Persian Gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar.

-- Steve Coll


• MEXICO CITY -- A grand total of $180 may have been enough for Mexico's government to defuse a political crisis by keeping the leftist favorite for president in 2006 out of jail and prevent him from looking like a martyr.

Yet the saga could become more bizarre if Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico City's mayor, is allowed to refuse bail pending his trial for contempt of court.

He said that he had filed a court motion to have the bail withdrawn, but it was unclear if he would be successful.


• HANOI -- Thirty Vietnamese war veterans and a driver were killed in a bus crash Thursday while en route to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, police said.

The bus had rounded a curve on the old Ho Chi Minh Trail -- which has been converted into a highway -- and plummeted approximately 70 yards down a mountain.

Only two of the 33 people aboard survived the early morning crash, a police spokesman said.


• MADRID -- The lower house of the Spanish parliament approved the Socialist government's gay marriage bill, a major step toward making traditionally Roman Catholic Spain the third European country to legalize same-sex marriages.

The bill, which also will pave the way for gay couples to adopt children, will now go to the Senate -- where the Socialists have ample support -- for final approval in the coming weeks.


JERUSALEM -- Israel's defense minister recommended briefly delaying Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the strongest indication yet that the summer pullout will be pushed back.

The recommendation by Shaul Mofaz, which is expected to win government approval, came as Israel and the Palestinians held their first talks on coordinating the pullout.

-- From News Services

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