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Scientists see star’s birth

The infrared telescope, which launched in August 2003, has captured more than 300 newly formed stars, about 13,700 light-years from Earth.

Initial analysis shows the stars are surrounded by dusty discs, an early phase in a star’s life, said Ed Churchwell, of University of Wisconsin.

The stars are in a zone called RCW 49 in the Centaurus constellation – Mr Churchwell is also the lead investigator on the RCW 49 research project.

A star and its disc are located inside a dense envelope of gas and dust. Planets are born in a star’s disc.

“By seeing what’s behind the dust, Spitzer has shown us star and planet formation is a very active process in our galaxy,” Mr Churchwell said.

Michael Werner, a Spitzer project scientist in Pasadena, California, said scientists were only able to study a small sample of discs, but Spitzer will allow them to analyse thousands of them.

In another study, Spitzer was able to find ice particles within discs circling five young stars in the Taurus constellation, 420 light-years from Earth.

The particles, covered with water, methanol and carbon dioxide, could explain the origins of comets, which many scientists consider the source of water and life on Earth.

One of the young stars shown by Spitzer, called CoKu Tau 4, could have in its orbit the youngest planet ever observed.

The star is about one-million-years-old and the planet could be younger. By contrast, Earth is believed to be 4.5-billion-years-old.

“These early results show Spitzer will dramatically expand our understanding of how stars and planets form, which ultimately helps us understand our origins,” Mr Werner said.

In addition to Spitzer, NASA has three telescopes orbiting Earth: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.

A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion kilometres.

Peace process in ‘tatters’

They have warned that Israel may have abandoned the peace process, as Palestinians call for revenge attacks.

Governments are urging both sides to show restraint, fearful of a new wave of heavy violence in the already deeply troubled region.

Hamas said Israel’s actions have opened the “gates of hell.”

The European Union, which contributes the most international aid to the Palestinian Authority, has urged for calm, along with Arab and Asian leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac said the EU condemns “all acts of violence, especially when they are acts contrary to international law.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, but “it is not entitled for this kind of unlawful killing, and we therefore condemn it.”

Envoys of the EU, Russia, the UN and US, which make up a diplomatic quartet for Middle East peace, are to begin talks in Cairo in an attempt to hose down tensions.

The US has denied having any prior knowledge the attack was to take place, and said it is deeply troubled by the killing.

“We do think that this event increases tension and it doesn’t help efforts to resume progress towards peace,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Despite back-slapping over the killing in Israel, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulating troops who took part, there has been some dissent within his government.

The head of Israel’s Shin Beth domestic security service, Avi Dichter, has opposed the assassination, according to reports on army radio.

The counter-terrorism chief reportedly argued that killing the wheelchair-bound and partially blind leader would be “more harmful than useful for Israel.”

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner criticised the killing, saying states cannot act as judge, jury and executioner.

“Using targeted killings raises serious questions of legality and proportionality, and it is likely to make more difficult efforts to move towards peace, as well as risking further undermining respect for human rights of Palestinians and Israelis,” said Bertrand Ramcharan.

The Arab governments of Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, have joined more radical states in condemning the attack.

Nine Iraqis die in latest attacks

The deaths came as NATO announced it would send troops if an Iraqi Government, due to take over on July 1, requests its support.

Three Iraqis were killed and at least five wounded in a rocket attack by unknown insurgents in southwest Baghdad late on Thursday, according to police and witnesses.

Police said violence also dogged the northern city of Mosul, where three policemen and two civilians were killed in a rocket and automatic rifle attack.

Another Iraqi police officer was killed and two others seriously wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk when gunmen attacked their patrol, police said.

A US soldier was also wounded near Baquba, in central Iraq, when a homemade bomb exploded near his convoy.

In another development Polish troops said they had arrested seven al-Qaeda suspects since mid-January, including two in the past week, in the countdown to the week’s bomb attack on Karbala.

The spokesman conceded the US-led coalition had anticipated Tuesday’s spectacular bombings, but stuck to a security plan putting Iraqi forces in charge of the city for the major holiday.

Polish Warrant Officer Zbigniew Dabkiewicz said two of the suspects were connected with Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the US-led coalition’s prime suspect the Karbala and Baghdad attacks.

In Warsaw, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would send soldiers to Iraq if Baghdad requested them and that the United Nations should mandate a stabilisation force for the country under sovereign self-rule.

“After the 1st of July, it is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to decide” whether to ask NATO to send troops, he said.

The United States is to formally end the occupation of Iraq and hand over power to a sovereign government on June 30, although it will retain a military presence in the country.

US bids to have UK cleric extradited

The cleric is known for his fiery sermons to London Muslims, and was detained at 0300 BST (local time) by officers from the Extradition and International Assistance Unit, according to Scotland Yard.

The 47-year-old is facing 11 terrorism charges including hostage taking and helping Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror network.

One of the charges is understood to carry the death penalty, but the British authorities will not extradite anyone facing such a sentence.

The US Justice Department has indicated it is ready to discuss the possibility of rejecting the possible death sentence to secure the extradition.

“The statutory maximum of the offence is penalty of death or life imprisonment,” said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.

“I can’t comment on whether we are going to drop anything, but obviously if the British seek assurances from us regarding the death penalty, that it will not be sought, we will address that with the British.”

The kidnapping charges relate to the seizure of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in December 1998, two of whom were Americans.

Four captives – an Australian and three Britons – were killed when Yemeni armed forces attempted a rescue.

US law enforcement officials were jubilant at the controversial cleric’s detention.

Abu Hamza “is the real deal,” said New York police commissioner Ray Kelly.

“Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide,” he said.

Mr Hamza, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, appeared at London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in the first-phase of the extradition process.

Looking tired and slightly dishevelled, and standing behind a glass security screen, Mr Hamza spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth, and then respond to the question of whether he consented to the extradition.

Mr Hamza paused and smiled slightly before replying: “I don’t really think I want to, no.”

The cleric’s lawyers asked for him to be released on bail, but district judge Timothy Workman refused, remanding him in custody until June 3. The main extradition hearing was scheduled for July 23.

Britain’s tabloid press has long demanded that Mr Hamza be stripped of his citizenship and thrown out due to his support for bin Laden.

Born in Alexandria to an Egyptian army officer, Mr Hamza became a UK citizen through marriage in 1981, two years after he came to the country to become a civil engineer.

In the late 1980s Hamza went to Afghanistan where he sustained injuries to an eye and both hands – one of which he replaced with a metal hook – while, according to him, clearing Soviet landmines.

He has become a hugely controversial figure for his sermons at north London’s Finsbury Park mosque calling for jihad against Western interests and denouncing the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He shot to national notoriety following comments in support of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Bush ‘failed to act’ on terrorism

Richard Clarke, who has worked as the National Security Advisor for every US government since the Reagan era, said the leader virtually ignored the threat of al-Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

Mr Clarke made the charges in his book Against All Enemies, which goes on sale later today in the US, and repeated the claims during an interview on US television.

“I found it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism,” he said.

“He ignored it, he ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.”

Mr Clarke was Mr Bush’s top counter-terrorism expert before he resigned in February 2003.

“I think the way he has responded to al-Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing, and what he’s done after 9/11, has made us less safe,” said Mr Clarke.

He recalled the days after the attacks that brought down the World Trade Centre towers, when Mr Bush ordered him to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was linked in any way.

Despite insisting that it was most likely the work of al-Qaeda, he looked into whether any links existed, and found none.

Mr Clarke also revealed that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to bomb Iraq just one day after September 11, insisting the country had a better array of targets than Afghanistan, home to al-Qaeda’s training camps at the time.

The White House has released a point-by-point rebuttal to his accusations.

“The president sought to determine who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” said the document.

“Given Iraq’s past support of terror, including an attempt by Iraqi intelligence to kill a former president, it would have been irresponsible not to ask if Iraq had any involvement in the attack.”

Mr Clarke is set to testify this week before the independent commission investigating the 2001 hijacked airplane attacks in New York and Washington that killed around 3,000 people.

PM announces second Iraq inquiry

The inquiry was recommended by a bi-partisan parliamentary committee report, which found the Government’s statements on the case for war apparently went further than the intelligence advice it received.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, says an inquiry headed by former spy, Philip Flood, will report to the Government by the end of June.

Mr Howard says he’s confident Mr Flood will conduct the report in a way that will build public support and confidence in Australia’s intelligence agencies.

“He’s not only a former director general of the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, a director-general of ONA*, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he’s a former ambassador to Indonesia, and he’s a former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. In other words, a person eminently qualified, somebody who’s served with distinction, both sides of this parliament during his professional career, and I’m certain he’ll carry out the task in a professional way.”

The Federal Opposition has criticised the terms of reference of the second inquiry, saying it will only be the actions of the intelligence agencies in the lead-up to the Iraq war that will be examined, rather than the Government itself.

Labor’s spokesman for foreign affairs, Kevin Rudd, also says the inquiry does not appear to have the powers of a Royal Commission, and should not be headed by a former spy.

“Those who have headed intelligence agencies in the past would be problematic because there would be a conflict of interest. You can’t have people who have been a part of the intelligence club at some stage in their careers. And Mr Flood on that score has been formally the director of the Office of National Assessements.”

Attacks mark war anniversary

Two Iraqis were killed after being struck by one of three rockets targeting the so-called “Green Zone” hit a traffic island in the nearby Mansour neighbourhood.

A second missile landing inside the coalition compound causing no casualties.

In a separate assault, five rockets were fired at a military base near Fallujah in western Iraq killing two US soldiers were killed and wounding five more soldiers and a sailor.

The attacks came as President George W Bush faced renewed criticism for leading the war on Iraq.

Former White House adviser Richard Clarke has alleged the Bush administration wanted to topple Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein immediately following the September 11 attacks in 2001, despite evidence pointing to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

The claims were reinforced by comments from former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who said Washington acted too quickly going to war based on hastily compiled evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

European Commissioner Romano Prodi has also called the White House into question over the Iraq campaign, challenging the war’s purported benefits in the fight against terrorism.

In Iraq, divisions are re-emerging with the country’s leading Shi’ite Muslim cleric pressing the UN to reject Iraq’s interim constitution, according to a letter obtained by a Reuters journalist.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reportedly argued the constitution’s three-person presidential council, consisting of a Sunni Muslim, a Kurd and a Shi’ite Muslim, would be unable to make unanimous decisions.

According to al-Sistani’s letter, this would open up the potential for foreign intervention to break potential deadlocks, and possibly end in the break-up of Iraq.

Venezuela referendum rejected

At least five people have died in street violence since Friday, and dozens have been wounded.

Venezuela’s elections council said on Tuesday the opposition does not have enough signatures to force a recall referendum.

Chavez opponents say they submitted more than 3.4 million signatures; however the council claims only 1.83 million of these are valid, falling short of the minimum 2.4 million needed.

But council president Francisco Carrasquero said 876,000 signatures could be reconfirmed by the signers in a special repair period later this month.

Voters whose signatures are disputed have between March 18 and March 22 to report to voting centres to confirm they signed the petition.

But oppositionists claim the complex process is a tactic to scuttle the vote.

“There is no other way but to accept this decision,” said Mr Carrasquerro.

“If someone does not accept it, they will be acting outside the law.”

His comments come as troops firing tear gas clashed with anti-government protesters in several cities.

One demonstrator was shot dead in Valencia.

Opposition leaders defended the validity of the signatures and have rejected the repair period.

They have called on the Organisation of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, mediators in the Venezuelan turmoil, to urge electoral officers to reconsider.

“The recall process that has been under way in Venezuela remains the best constitutional option for achieving national reconciliation in Venezuela and preserving Venezuela’s status as a democratic society,” said White House spokesman Scott McLennan.

“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in Venezuela. We have some real concerns about it,” he said.

FBI releases details of seven suspects

US officials are searching for the following seven people they believe may be involved in a plot to attack the US:

Adnan G El Shukrujimah is a Saudi Arabian who used to live in South Florida, and is believed to be a possible leader of a terrorism cell or an organiser.

He may be carrying passports from Saudi Arabia, Trinidad or Canada.

FBI officials say they are particularly interested in him as he is familiar with the US, is proficient in using fake documents and is fluent in English.

Aafia Siddiqui, 32, is a Pakistani woman who was an award-winning student at MIT, and also gained a doctorate in neurological sciences at Brandeis University.

Authorities believe she is not an al-Qaeda member but think she could be a fixer who can get things done in the US for other operatives.

It is believed she is in Pakistan, where her mother said she was last seen with her three children. Her husband, Dr Amjad Mohammad Khan, is also wanted by the FBI for questioning.

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is a native of the Comoros Republic, and is believed to be al-Qaeda’s ringleader in eastern Africa. He has been indicted in the US over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He has a $25 million bounty on his head and is thought to be hiding in Kenya or Somalia.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is a Tanzanian who also goes by the names Foopie, Fupi and Ahmed the Tanzanian. He is also under indictment in the United States for the embassy attacks.

Amer El-Maati was born in Kuwait, and is wanted by the FBI for questioning about possible al-Qaeda links.

Abderraouf Jdey is a former Tunisian who gained Canadian citizenship in 1995.

He is one of five men who left videotaped suicide messages recovered in Afghanistan at the home of Mohammed Atef – reportedly Osama bin Laden’s military chief killed in a US airstrike in 2001.

Also recovered from the home was a suicide letter by Jdey from August 1999, in which he pledged to die in battle against infidels.

Jdey also goes by the names Farouq Al-Tunisi and Al Rauf bin Al Habib bin Yousef Al-Jiddi. He might have a Canadian passport. His last known address was an apartment building in Montreal.

Adam Yahiye Gadahn says he grew up on a goat ranch in California then converted to Islam in his later teenage years. The 25 year old US citizen also goes by the names Adam Pearlman and Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki.

The FBI has claimed he has attended al-Qaeda training camps and has served as an al-Qaeda translator.

Annan calls for Iraq UN probe

In the letter to the 15-nation council, he said the inquiry would need the council’s backing and he will send a more detailed proposal most likely next week.

The UN has already begun its own internal investigation.

The oil-for-food program was set up to allow Saddam’s regime to use money from oil sales to buy essential supplies for Iraqis to help ease the hardship caused by sanctions slapped on Baghdad before the 1991 Gulf War.

It is credited with keeping six out of 10 Iraqis alive during the last years of Saddam’s rule.

But Iraqi and US officials are now looking into allegations that bribes to foreign officials and companies were common, and that billions of dollars were skimmed off the top by regime cronies.

“These allegations, whether or not they are ultimately shown to be well-founded, must be taken seriously and addressed forthrightly, in order to bring to light the truth and prevent an erosion of the trust and hope that the international community has invested in the organisation,” said Mr Annan’s document.

“I proposed to establish an independent, high-level inquiry to investigate the allegations relating to the administration and management of the program, including allegations of fraud and corruption.”

Mr Annan said earlier on Friday that it is “highly possible” that there was widespread wrongdoing in the UN-run program, which supervised Iraqi oil sales under Saddam.

The oil-for-food program began and December 1996 and ended last November, was the UN’s largest ever aid program, and oversaw tens of billions of dollars in transactions.

Benon Sevan, the UN official who ran it, has denied any improper behaviour.

In January, an Iraqi newspaper alleged that individuals and organisations from more than 40 countries had received vouchers for cut-price oil from the Iraqi regime.