British Ex-Soldier

Convicted in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A former British special forces operative who allegedly led a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea was convicted Friday of trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Sixty-six other suspected mercenaries were acquitted of the charge in connection with a deal that officials initially said was intended to get weapons for the coup plot, though the judge did not link them in his ruling .

The convicted suspect, Simon Mann, admitted trying to get weapons from the Zimbabwe Defense Industries, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Mann, however, contended that the weapons, which included assault rifles, grenades, antitank rocket launchers and other arms, were for a job protecting a mining operation in war-torn eastern Congo.

Nineteen people, including a number of South Africans, are on trial in the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea for the alleged coup plot.

Equatorial Guinea prosecutors said that they were seeking to extradite Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who is under house arrest in South Africa for allegedly providing financing for the plot.

AFRICA

* EL FASHER, Sudan -- American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson visited the conflict-torn region of Darfur, urging the Sudanese government and African rebels to end the crisis that has killed thousands of villagers and driven more than a million from their homes.

Arriving in the provincial capital of North Darfur in an aircraft lent by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Jackson said he wanted to "observe first hand what we have heard through testimony and what we have read."

"It is obvious there is a great humanitarian crisis," Jackson said after landing at an airport in the North Darfur capital of El Fasher, where he was met by a delegation of tribal leaders and officials.

"We call for collective action soon to stop the violence and open up the roads for relief, and that requires a worldwide effort," said Jackson. "Timing is of the essence as people are dying every day."

* GENEINA, Sudan -- A group of 78 Eritreans being deported from Libya hijacked their plane and diverted it to Khartoum, Sudan, where they surrendered, U.N. and Sudanese officials said.

A senior Sudanese official said the chartered plane had taken off from the Libyan town of Khufrah and was heading for the Eritrean capital, Asmara, when the deportees seized control.

Libya had denied them refugee status, and they wanted to seek asylum in Sudan rather than return home, the official said, adding, "The United Nations is dealing with this."

* UNITED NATIONS -- Sudan's marauding militias are maintaining at least 16 military camps in Darfur, some alongside the Sudanese army, despite Khartoum's pledges to disarm the fighters, Human Rights Watch said.

The New York-based rights group said its survey, based on accounts by witnesses, showed that the Janjaweed, Arab militias blamed for atrocities against African villagers, shared control with the army in five of the 16 camps.

EUROPE

* ROME -- The Vatican returned a Russian icon venerated by Pope John Paul II to Moscow in a gesture aimed at improving strained relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and possibly clearing the way for a visit by the ailing pontiff.

The icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, accompanied by a high-ranking Vatican delegation, will be turned over to Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Alexy II in a ceremony Saturday.

* LONDON -- British anti-terror police were granted more time to question radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Masri who faces extradition to the United States on terrorism charges.

British police arrested Abu Hamza on Thursday on suspicion of being involved "in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."

Detectives have now been given until Sept. 2 to question him after magistrates approved an extension to his detention.

* MANNHEIM, Germany -- An unemployed teacher who slapped German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a campaign rally last spring was convicted and sentenced to four months of probation.

Jens Ammoser, 52, was convicted of bodily harm and defamation. He testified that he lunged at Schroeder at the May 18 event out of anger at cuts in social programs.

* NICOSIA, Cyprus -- A small bomb slightly damaged a Greek Orthodox church housing valuable Byzantine icons in northern Cyprus, just days before Greek Cypriots were to hold the first service there in decades.

It was the first attack on a place of worship on the ethnically divided island since border crossings were eased last year, allowing Turkish and Greek Cypriots to mingle freely.

* ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland -- Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a Northern Ireland peace center named in honor of the former U.S. president.

The William Jefferson Clinton Peace Center was built on the spot where the IRA in November 1987 detonated bomb in a crowd of Protestant civilians commemorating the dead from the first and second World Wars. Eleven people were killed.

THE AMERICAS

* MEXICO CITY -- Mexican prosecutors asked the nation's highest court to review criminal charges against a former president who they say ordered a 1971 student massacre.

The attorney general asked the Supreme Court to take up the case against ex-President Luis Echeverria and former members of his government, after a lower court dismissed the case last month, said a spokesman for the special prosecutor handling the case.

* EL MITCH, Guatemala -- Thousands of underfed children could face starvation if rains do not bring relief to drought-ravaged regions of Guatemala soon, government officials and aid agencies said. Low rainfall in July and August has destroyed corn in at least four provinces of the poor Central American country, putting at least 4,000 families at risk of severe food shortages, aid agencies say.

ASIA

* MANILA, Philippines -- Riot police used water cannons to disperse protesters demanding that the Philippines lift its ban on allowing its citizens to go to war-ravaged Iraq for jobs.

The protesters marched to the presidential palace to urge President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to let them leave for Iraq, where they said U.S. military contracts await them.

* ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's National Assembly elected former Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz prime minister, after he was handpicked for the post by military leader President Pervez Musharraf.

The election of Aziz, a former Citibank executive who has led the turnaround of Pakistan's economy over the past five years, was a formality given the pro-military parliamentary majority.

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- A renegade Afghan militia commander agreed to be brought to the capital, Kabul, after a U.S.-brokered cease-fire 10 days ago halted his forces' march on the city of Herat, a government spokesman said.

Ethnic Tajik politicians have criticized President Hamid Karzai over his government's response to commander Amanullah Khan's attack earlier this month on the Tajik-led provincial government in Afghanistan's far west, bordering Iran.

The MIDDLE EAST

* BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The United States, Germany and France called for presidential elections in Lebanon to be free, based on the constitution and staged without foreign intervention, a reference to neighboring Syria, the main power broker in this Arab country.

The calls come amid an attempt by Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud to seek another six-year term after his remaining three months in office end on Nov. 24.

-- From News Services