Ivory Coast Leader

Skips Crisis Summit

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Ivory Coast's president, blamed by France for violence against foreigners and on guard against attempts to overthrow him, remained in his mansion Sunday, skipping an African summit in Nigeria on ending his country's crisis. Meanwhile, foreigners jammed the airport to flee the West African country despite a return of calm.

At the Nigeria summit, African leaders supported an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions against the Ivorian government and rebels. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council supported sanctions if the government and rebels did not return to a peace process by the beginning of December.

In a separate development, President Laurent Gbagbo promoted the hard-line commander whose forces launched the deadly airstrike on French peacekeepers that set off the confrontation. Philippe Mangou was named head of the country's armed forces, and the move appeared likely to anger France and much of Gbagbo's own army.

As a French-led evacuation builds to one of Africa's largest exoduses of foreigners, French President Jacques Chirac denounced Gbagbo's "questionable regime" and said France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, would not tolerate much more.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* CAIRO -- Egypt has in recent days released 700 jailed members of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a Muslim group that fought the government in the 1990s but that has since renounced violence, a newspaper reported.

The daily Al Masry Al Youmsaid the prisoners had been serving prison sentences between five and 10 years. It did not say how much time they had served.

An Interior Ministry official had no immediate comment on the reported releases.

Al-Gamaa fought the Egyptian authorities in the 1990s in an effort to form a strict Islamic state.

Egypt last year freed 400 al-Gamaa members, including leading member Karam Zuhdi, who spent 20 years in prison for his involvement in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

EUROPE

* LONDON -- Police and intelligence agencies have prevented international terrorists from striking Britain by disrupting their planned attacks, but the danger is not over and the need to stay vigilant remains, top security officials said.

The cases of several terror suspects who are expected to go on trial in the coming year will demonstrate that "al Qaeda and the international network" are "actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives," the home secretary, David Blunkett, told the BBC

Earlier Sunday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens said London's police "thwarted a number of attacks."

* AMSTERDAM -- Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende visited a Turkish mosque in the city of Eindhoven in a show of solidarity after a wave of attacks on Muslim buildings in the Netherlands.

More than 20 attacks on Muslim sites have been reported since the Nov. 2 murder of a filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, by an alleged Islamic extremist. An Islamic elementary school in Eindhoven was bombed Nov. 8, and two mosques have since been burned down. No injuries were reported in any of the attacks on Muslim properties.

THE AMERICAS

* PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Canada's prime minister urged rival groups to disarm and political factions to settle differences so the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere could make use of international aid.

Paul Martin's one-day visit to Haiti was aimed at encouraging international commitments to rebuild the country, which has been mired in political upheaval since the ouster of its elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on Feb. 29.

ASIA anD THE PACIFIC

* SYDNEY -- Police said they arrested two men and seized 3 million ecstasy tablets that the pair is accused of importing from Poland hidden inside a bakery oven.

The two Australians were taken into custody Saturday after they picked up the oven and removed its contents at a factory in Sydney, a police statement said. The oven had been flown into Sydney from Germany on Oct. 15. But the drugs, which police said were worth about $154 million, are believed to have originated in Poland, police said.

* HYDERABAD, India -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who heads for Kashmir this week, said his visit was aimed at ending years of violence in the troubled Himalayan region. Singh's comments came as thousands of Kashmiri Muslims, scarred by 15 years of violence, celebrated Eid al-Fitr days.

-- From News Services