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Citing an Iraqi Justice Ministry official, Reuters reported that five women prisoners whose release has been linked to the case of kidnapped Monitor contributor Jill Carroll will be freed from US custody Thursday. The official said the five would be among 424 prisoners let go because they've "completed their legal procedures." US spokesmen in Iraq had no comment on the report, having said previously that no release of prisoners was imminent. Carroll's captors demanded the freeing of all Iraqi female prisoners in exchange for her freedom and set last Friday as the deadline for compliance. There was no new word on Carroll's status Wednesday.

A widely read newspaper supplement that provided in-depth coverage of sensitive social and environmental issues was ordered to close by China's government Wednesday. The move came one day after a reporter in a separate case was jailed for three years after exposing an outbreak of dengue fever that authorities had kept secret. Against that backdrop, the US Internet search engine Google was bracing for heavy criticism after admitting it had bowed to Chinese pressure and would block user access to information considered "subversive" by the government in Beijing. The watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders called the decision "a black day." Google argued in a statement that it could play a more constructive role in China by bowing to the pressure than by ceasing operations there.

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Saying, "If we send them away, more will come ... and we will have to struggle to find them," Russian President Vladimir Putin asked his government to propose a response to alleged spying in Moscow by British diplomats. He called the situation, which was the subject of a prime-time TV program Sunday, "regrettable." But he told journalists he hadn't decided whether the British diplomats should be expelled. By a 401-6 vote, however, the lower house of parliament passed a resolution calling it unacceptable for "people carrying out intelligence operations on Russian territory" to finance nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Putin, once a spy himself, has accused Western governments of using NGOs as pressure groups to foment unrest in former Soviet territory.

Hopes rose for a peaceful resolution to the mounting violence in Sri Lanka after the government and Tamil separatist rebels agreed to meet on neutral soil to discuss how to better abide by their shaky truce. The talks will be held in Switzerland as soon as next month. The agreement was brokered by Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim, who flew to Sri Lanka earlier this week to try to stave off a return to all-out civil war. More than 100 people died last month alone in attacks largely blamed on the Tamils. And hours before Solheim's announcement, five bombs exploded in the capital, Colombo, although no injuries were reported.

Residents were fleeing the volatile delta of Nigeria Wednesday as fresh government troops moved in following a bold daylight raid by local militiamen. The raid Tuesday on the local headquarters of Agip, an Italian oil company, resulted in the deaths of eight security guards and a civilian employee and the theft of $28,000 from the company's bank. The incident was the latest in a series by militants demanding that local leaders be freed from prison. One group also said it would make Agip rival Royal Dutch/Shell "suffer" further unless it pays $1.5 billion to compensate for the pollution of waterways in the region. Earlier this month, 12 soldiers died in a raid on a Shell platform, and the company has pulled 500 employees out of the region and cut production by more than 200,000 barrels a day.


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