Karzai Decries Burning

Of Two Taliban Bodies

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Friday demanded a quick investigation after the release of video appearing to show U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military -- already under pressure for the handling of Afghan detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- has ordered an inquiry into the footage shown on Australian television.

"We in Afghanistan, in accordance with our religion and traditions and adherence to international law, are very unhappy and condemn the burning of two Taliban dead bodies," Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace. He also said the U.S. military should share its findings with the Afghan government.

The footage was shot by an Australian network in the southeastern province of Kandahar, former bastion of the Taliban.

Abdul Hai Mutmaen, a Taliban spokesman, urged Muslim countries to show a united reaction to the incident and challenged rights groups over their silence. "Where are the human right groups? Why are they not raising their voice about this brutality?" he told Reuters by phone.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- Thousands of Muslims rioted outside a Coptic Christian church to denounce a play deemed offensive to Islam, prompting police to beat protesters and fire tear gas into the crowd, officials said. One person died and more than 90 were injured.

Police said 53 protesters were arrested as people hurled stones, smashed windows and tried to storm St. George Church. Protesters also set a police car on fire and wrecked eight other cars, the Interior Ministry said.

The riot was sparked by distribution of a DVD of a play that was performed at the church two years ago. The play, "I Was Blind but Now I Can See," tells the story of a young Christian who converts to Islam and becomes disillusioned.

* TULKARM, West Bank -- Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestinian security officials said.

Palestinian witnesses said troops opened fire on unarmed protesters who threw stones at an army jeep east of Tulkarm, a town in the northern West Bank. But an Israeli military spokesman said soldiers had shot at gunmen who fired first at the troops and damaged a military vehicle.

EUROPE

* LONDON -- Britain and Croatia confirmed cases of bird flu as other countries prepared measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Croatia, the Agriculture Ministry said the country's first cases of bird flu were confirmed in six swans found dead in a national park. British officials said a parrot imported from South America had died of bird flu in quarantine. The parrot had been in a unit with birds from Taiwan, an official said.

In both cases, authorities did not know if the birds had the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

* ROME -- Police said they had arrested scores of people across Europe in a crackdown on organized crime, days after a local politician was fatally shot at an Italian polling station in a suspected mob hit.

A total of 58 people were arrested for alleged drug trafficking in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Serbia-Montenegro, police said.

* BELGRADE -- Serbia and Montenegro approved a former confidant of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic as the country's defense minister amid speculation that his main job will be to negotiate the general's surrender. Gen. Zoran Stankovic was immediately sworn in.

* SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, recommended the start of long-delayed talks on closer ties between the E.U. and Bosnia, the only Balkan nation without a formal E.U. "roadmap."

ASIA

* BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Authorities said a second former government minister was arrested on charges of involvement in a coup plot against President Ilham Aliyev, deepening tensions ahead of next month's key parliamentary elections.

-- From News Services

Egyptian police fire tear gas into crowds rioting outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria to protest a play deemed offensive to Islam.