No Bird Flu Is Detected

In Romania, Experts Say

BRUSSELS -- Bird flu has not been detected in Romania, European Union veterinary experts said Wednesday, confirming that the highly contagious disease had not yet reached Europe.

"The disease situation amongst poultry and wild birds . . . the available epidemiological data and the laboratory results at present do not confirm the presence of avian influenza," the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, said in a statement.

Preliminary tests last week on three ducks in Romania's Danube delta were positive and raised fears that the disease had entered Europe.

The commission also announced that it would extend until April its ban on imports of poultry products from Turkey, where avian influenza was discovered last week.

Test results due Friday were expected to show whether Turkey has a low-risk strain or the more serious H5N1 virus, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* GAZA CITY -- Palestinian gunmen briefly kidnapped an American and a British journalist as the pair drove through the central Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, the Knight Ridder newspaper chain said.

Dion Nissenbaum, an American reporter for Knight Ridder, and British photographer Adam Pletts, who was working on contract, were freed unharmed after several hours in captivity, Knight Ridder said.

Palestinian security officials said the men had been kidnapped by a renegade group of members of the ruling Fatah party. They said Fatah officials and Palestinian security officers negotiated their release.

EUROPE

* BERLIN -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said for the first time that he would not participate in Germany's new coalition government led by the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel. "I will not be a part of the next government," he told a crowd of union members in Hanover.

* GENEVA -- A U.N.-led campaign conceded that it would miss its goal of halting the spread of polio worldwide by year's end, saying it would take another year to complete the job in northern Nigeria.

The $4 billion effort, begun in 1988 and led by the World Health Organization, lost pace when the northern Nigerian state of Kano banned immunizations for 10 months in 2003-04. Polio subsequently spread to 18 countries, mainly in West and Central Africa.

* ROME -- A centuries-old project to link mainland Italy to the island of Sicily took a major step forward when an international consortium won a contract to build a bridge connecting the two. It will be the longest suspension bridge in the world.

-- From News Services