THE MIDDLE EAST

Millions Pray for Turkey Quake Victims

ISTANBUL -- Millions gathered at mosques across Turkey yesterday to offer solemn funeral prayers for the more than 13,000 people killed by last week's earthquake, and the government acknowledged the number left homeless could top a half-million.

Amid the backdrop of escalating tensions between Turkey's authorities and Islamic groups, which are challenging the secular nature of the state, the government said it had frozen the bank accounts of two Muslim organizations that have been active in quake-relief efforts, saying they had not gotten the proper authorization for their financial transactions. The two groups said they were being targeted because of their faith.

After days of frantic rescue and cleanup efforts, a fuller picture of Turkey's longer-term needs began to emerge. The government projected it would need to build about 100,000 to 120,000 new homes for quake victims, said Harun Aslan, spokesman for the Ministry of Housing and Public Works.

ASIA

India Returns Prisoners of War to Pakistan

NEW DELHI -- India handed over eight Pakistani soldiers captured during the Kashmir conflict to the International Committee of the Red Cross for immediate repatriation.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal told a news conference they were released "after the ICRC said the Pakistan government had confirmed that all eight belonged to Pakistan's regular army." A Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement said the men would be returned to the Punjab state capital, Lahore, "bringing to an end the unnecessary agony they had to undergo because of their unjustified detention."

Kyrgyzstan Seeks Help Against Gunmen

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyzstan has appealed to Russia for weapons and other equipment to fight gunmen who are occupying several villages near the border with Tajikistan, an official said.

The Kyrgyz government is asking Russia for weapons, communications equipment and night-vision goggles, said the acting Kyrgyz defense minister, Gen. Nuritdin Chomoyev, according to the Russian Tass news agency.

The gunmen, identified as Islamic militants, seized five small villages in southern Kyrgyzstan after crossing the border from Tajikistan on Sunday. They also took hostages, including four Japanese geologists.

U.N. Panel Says Japan Must Pay Sex Slaves

GENEVA -- A key U.N. human rights body has rejected Japan's reasons for denying government compensation to women forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II.

In a 15 to 2 vote Thursday, the U.N. Subcommission on Human Rights stressed that under international law, governments are responsible for war crimes and other rights violations committed by their soldiers.

Japan has refused demands that it compensate victims on grounds that the treaties it has concluded since the war settled all claims.

AFRICA

Gadhafi Says Libya Crushed Islamic Militancy

CAIRO -- In a rare admission, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi acknowledged that an Islamic militant movement had existed in Libya but said it was "finished easily."

The movement consisted of youths originally paid by U.S. intelligence to fight the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Gadhafi said in comments published in the al-Hayat newspaper. "They returned desperate and destructive, and adopted killing and explosives as their profession, according to the training they received from the American intelligence," the London-based newspaper quoted Gadhafi as saying.

Hundreds Reported Killed in Angolan War

LUANDA, Angola -- Fighting this week has left hundreds dead, according to aid workers.

As many as 5,000 people were on the move since Tuesday, displaced by fighting between government troops and UNITA rebels close to the northern provincial capital of Uige, aid workers said. "It's fair to say there has been mass destruction during the last few days and hundreds are dead," said one.

EUROPE

U.S., Russia Say Food Aid Still on Track

MOSCOW -- Administrators of a billion-dollar U.S. food aid program to Russia said they are satisfied the aid is being delivered without a hitch and will shortly send a team to assess repeating the aid next year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington and U.S. officials in Moscow gave their vote of confidence in Russia amid reports that billions of dollars, including aid funds, have been stolen and transferred abroad.

France May Try Nazi Fugitive in Absentia

PARIS -- France may put Alois Brunner, one of Nazi Germany's most zealous mass murderers, on trial for crimes against humanity next year even if it fails in its efforts to win his extradition from Syria.

Brunner, an Austrian-born SS officer, was the wartime private secretary to Gestapo police chief Adolf Eichmann. Brunner is believed to have personally organized and ordered the deportation of some 130,000 Jews, from France and elsewhere, to Nazi death camps.

The French government has been pressing Syria to extradite Brunner, 87, who is reported to be living in Damascus under an assumed name. But a French investigating magistrate, Herve Stephan, is poised to initiate a full-scale trial in absentia, a spokesman in Stephan's office said.

AMERICAS

Ecuador Unveils Loan Agreement With IMF

QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuador's president announced a $900 million loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund to help revitalize the impoverished nation's sinking economy.

President Jamil Mahuad appealed to opposition legislators to back the proposal during a nationally televised address. Ecuador will obtain the loan only if the opposition-dominated Congress approves the plan.

Mahuad has grappled with a domestic banking crisis, devastating damage from the El Nin~o weather phenomenon, and sinking world prices of oil, the nation's main export.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We are leaving a bit of Russia, something we built in space, and it is unknown what we will build in the future."

Cosmonaut Viktor Afanasyev, leaving the Mir space station