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With a major sandstorm buffeting Iraq, the focus in the war turned to how soon US forces might assault Baghdad. A briefer at Central Command headquarters in Qatar said the advance on the capital remained "on track" and warned civilian residents to avoid buildings used by Saddam Hussein's regime and as well as roads because "the battlefield extends across the country now."

In related developments:

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• Offering its own version of the dispute with the US over sales of war materiel to Iraq, a Russian government spokesman said President Vladimir Putin also had raised questions on "analogous problems" that were not yet answered by the Bush administration. He said Putin had proved the US concerns to be unfounded. Two Russian companies accused of the sales also deny involvement.

• The decision of Canada's leaders that their country would sit out the war has caused a "bump in relations," US Ambassador Paul Cellucci told business leaders in Toronto. The US, he said, wouldn't hesitate to respond to a security threat to Canada, and many Americans are "upset that Canada is not there for us now." He suggested that its stance "could" bring repercussions in US policy toward its largest trading partner.

• With antiwar sentiment rising in South Korea, parliament put off until further notice a vote on sending 700 doctors and engineers to support the coalition in Iraq.

A suspect believed to be the sniper who assassinated Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was arrested, along with an accomplice, authorities announced. They said a rifle likely to have been used in the shooting was found with Zvezdan Jovanovic, once a leader of an elite police unit formed by ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The unit will be disbanded, police said.

The high-profile appeal of a Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death was postponed until June 3 - two months after the nation's critical presidential election. An Islamic court last August ordered Amina Lawal's execution for bearing a child out of wedlock in a case that brought protests from global human rights groups. The delay in hearing her appeal was seen as an effort to keep the case from becoming an issue in the election.

More than 700 people were ordered not to leave their homes in Singapore for 10 days as the government sought to contain the spread of the so-called Asian mystery disease. Authorities took the step as the number of deaths around the world from it rose to 17 and those hospitalized with its symptoms to 426. Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, was among persons aboard a returning flight that was held up while doctors examined another passenger suspected of having the illness.


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