Rebels Labeled 'Dirty Rats'

As Iraqis Are Urged to Vote

BAGHDAD -- The government on Sunday urged Iraqis to vote in next week's constitutional referendum, condemning insurgent groups for demanding a boycott and for killing hundreds of civilians to disrupt the balloting.

Although major attacks in the insurgent campaign have waned in recent days, violence killed 13 Iraqis on Sunday.

"These insurgents are like rats spreading plague among the people," said Laith Kubba, the main Iraqi government spokesman. "Rats are very small, but the disease they spread is horrible. Iraq should be rid of these dirty rats."

Separately, the U.S. military announced the death of a Marine during one of two offensives being waged in western Iraq. The Marine was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, where about 500 U.S. and 400 Iraqi troops were conducting Operation Mountaineer, the military said.

Asia

* BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Riot police scattered hundreds of opposition supporters protesting in Azerbaijan's capital in defiance of a ban, beating some with truncheons and dragging several away as tensions mounted ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

A riot police unit pushed back dozens of protesters, some carrying red carnations, as they made their way down a narrow street toward one of the squares where opposition rallies were planned in this oil-rich former Soviet republic.

"This is how they smother freedom," said Jafar Bakhash, an opposition supporter leaning on a wooden cane and standing near the fray. "I'm 65, but I will fight to the end of my life."

* KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A suspected Taliban suicide attacker rammed a car laden with explosives into a vehicle carrying British government officials in southern Afghanistan, wounding four of them, a commander of the U.S.-led coalition said.

The Britons were traveling in an armored Land Cruiser in Kandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban, when they were attacked, said Col. Steve Bowes, a Canadian commander with the coalition. Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said the four were customs officials from London touring the region before the launch of a British government-sponsored project.

* KATMANDU, Nepal -- The royal government set a date for Nepal's municipal elections, a tentative step toward restoring democracy following the king's seizure of absolute power earlier this year.

The election commission said the vote would be held Feb. 8, despite opposition threats to boycott and an escalating communist insurgency.

The middle east

* GAZA CITY -- Israeli soldiers shot dead three Palestinians near the Israel-Gaza frontier early Monday, Palestinian medics said.

The Israeli army said troops spotted three Palestinians crawling near the Gaza border fence, with one carrying a bag. Suspecting it contained explosives, the soldiers shot at the Palestinians after they failed to heed calls to stop.

It was unclear whether the men were armed at the time of the shooting. Palestinians later took the bodies to a Palestinian hospital, the medics said.

* CAIRO -- Leaders from 10 of Egypt's major opposition groups agreed to put aside their deep enmity for one another and join forces against President Hosni Mubarak's governing party in next month's parliamentary elections.

Conspicuously missing from the National Front for Change that was formed late Saturday was Ayman Nour, head of the Tomorrow party, who finished second behind Mubarak in the Sept. 7 presidential election and now claims to be the leader of the opposition.

EUROPE

* VATICAN CITY -- A German bishop known as the "Lion of Muenster" for his courageous anti-Nazi sermons during World War II took a step on the road to sainthood when he was beatified in St. Peter's Basilica.

Pope Benedict XVI hailed the "heroic courage" of Clemens August von Galen and described the churchman, who condemned anti-Semitism, as a model for those in public roles today.

Von Galen died in 1946, at age 68, a few weeks after Pope Pius XII raised him to the rank of cardinal.

AFrica

* NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- The leader of Mauritania's new military junta pledged to maintain the country's international commitments to fight terrorism, which have included U.S. military training for Mauritanian troops.

Col. Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, head of the military council that ousted President Maouya Sidi Ahmed Taya in a bloodless coup in early August, said combating terrorism would protect Mauritania's security.

"Terrorism is contrary to our own values," he said in his first news conference since the 17-member junta seized power.

-- From News Services

In Baghdad, a child holds a copy of Iraq's draft constitution, which was distributed yesterday along with food rations. Voters will go to the polls Saturday to decide the fate of the document, which has divided the country.