Italian Leader Says He

Tried to Block Iraq War

ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of President Bush, said in a television interview that he tried repeatedly to dissuade the American leader from going to war in Iraq and was never convinced military force was the best way to achieve democracy there.

Berlusconi, who is facing a tough reelection battle next year and whose popularity has fallen in part over Italians' opposition to the war, made the comments on the eve of a trip to Washington.

The prime minister was one of Bush's strongest supporters in the run-up to the Iraq war. Italy now has about 2,900 troops in Iraq.

EUROPE

* PARIS -- Hundreds of French youths rioted for a second night in a Paris suburb, setting fire to cars and throwing rocks at police to protest the deaths of two compatriots who were electrocuted while trying to evade police, officials said.

Fifteen officers and a journalist were injured in the disturbances Friday night and Saturday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of the capital, officials said. Police firing tear gas restored order around 2 a.m. Saturday and detained 14 people, officials said.

The two boys, 15 and 17, died near an electrical transformer where they sought cover while fleeing from police Thursday evening. A third youth suffered serious burns.

THE AMERICAS

* PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua -- Hurricane Beta gained strength and lashed Nicaragua's jungle coast, forcing thousands of Miskito Indians and other residents to race for shelter. With winds of 105 mph, Beta was upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane and forecasters warned it could strengthen more before hitting land.

As Beta, the 23rd named storm of a record-breaking Atlantic-Caribbean season, battered the small fishing town, officials tried to find solid buildings to shelter its 50,000 inhabitants and evacuees from the area.

AFRICA

* ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Government troops in armored vehicles staged maneuvers in Abidjan to dispel fears of unrest ahead of a Sunday deadline set by rebels for President Laurent Gbagbo to step down.

Gbagbo's five-year term ends Sunday in the West African nation, which has been split in two since a 2002 civil war. Anti-French riots also swept Abidjan, the main commercial city, last November.

Rebels holding the northern half of the country have demanded that Gbagbo step down at midnight on Sunday, and opposition youth leaders have threatened street protests if he does not. Gbagbo has said he will stay in office for up to 12 months under a U.N.-backed peace plan that envisions eventual elections.

ASIA

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Masked men in black clothes wielding machetes beheaded three teenage Christian girls in eastern Indonesia as the girls walked to school near the Muslim town of Poso, officials said.

The headless bodies of the high school students were left at the site of the attack.

Their heads were found by residents two hours later at separate locations.

Muslim-Christian clashes in the area, about 900 miles northeast of Jakarta, killed about 2,000 people before a peace deal was reached in 2001. Although religious fighting has largely subsided, tension is still high following bombings in May in the neighboring Christian town of Tentena, in which 22 people were killed.

* QUETTA, Pakistan -- Pakistani border guards arrested a man who claimed to be an American citizen for entering Pakistan illegally from neighboring Iran, an official said.

The man, identified as Essa Jesus, 56, was arrested late Friday in Taftan, a southwestern town near the border with Iran, said Akbar Lashari, a senior border police official. He said the man could speak Urdu, Pashtu and Persian.

The man said he was a former waiter in Alabama and left the United States 40 years ago, going first to London, then India, and then traveling in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said it had no information about the arrest.

-- From News Services