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BAGHDAD, IRAQ Official says two killed, 14 wounded as U.S. troops open fire on protesters



Published: Wed, April 30, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The defense secretary said some countries are no longer taking in Iraqi fugitives.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- For the second time this week, U.S. soldiers fired on anti-American protesters in the city of Fallujah; the mayor said two people were killed and 14 were wounded. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld became the first top Bush administration official to visit Iraq since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Also today, a White House spokesman said President Bush will address the nation Thursday evening from the deck of on an aircraft carrier to say that major combat in Iraq has ended.

But the president will neither declare victory in so many words, nor declare the war to be over, said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Bush will make the speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as it steams toward its home port in San Diego. The speech will be given while the carrier is still more than a hundred miles off the California coast, Fleischer said.

Rumsfeld visit

Operating out of a Baghdad palace once used by Saddam, Rumsfeld taped a broadcast message to Iraqis today saying the United States is eager to return the country to their control. He also paid an in-person tribute to U.S. troops gathered at Baghdad's airport.

"We want the Iraqi people to live in freedom so they can build a future where the Iraqi leaders answer to the Iraqi people rather than killing them," Rumsfeld told the soldiers.

He told the troops they have "unleashed events that will unquestionably shape the course of this country."

Rumsfeld also said the Bush administration is using diplomatic efforts to encourage countries to turn over wanted Iraqis to U.S. authorities, and that some nations are no longer taking in fugitives.

About the shooting

The shooting in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, occurred less than 48 hours after gunfire during a demonstration Monday night that hospital officials said killed 13 Iraqis.

About 1,000 people marched down the city's main street today to protest the earlier incident, stopping in front of a battalion headquarters of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division -- a former office of Saddam's Baath Party.

American officers at the scene, and U.S. Central Command in Qatar, said U.S soldiers in the compound and in a passing convoy opened fire in response to rock-throwing and gunfire.

During the march, and for hours afterward, U.S. Apache attack helicopters circled the site, nearly skimming the tops of the tiled-roof minarets of Fallujah's mosques.

Fallujah's mayor, Taha Bedaiwi al-Alwani, said two people were killed and 14 were wounded, and he asked for an investigation and compensation for the victims. He added that U.S. soldiers have been asked to stay away from mosques, residential areas and other sensitive places; the Americans agreed to study the request.

Local officials in Fallujah -- a conservative Sunni Muslim city and Baath Party stronghold -- said they saw or heard no shooting from among the protesters.

The episode, coupled with the deaths Monday outside a school in Fallujah, are increasing tension as American forces try to keep the peace in Iraq and win the trust of its people.

U.S. officers met with Fallujah's mayor and local Muslim clerics in hopes of averting further violence. Several dozen demonstrators clustered angrily outside the town hall where the talks took place; "Get out, get out," some chanted.

Emerging from the meeting, the imam of the Grand Fallujah Mosque, Jamal Shaqir Mahmood, said the Americans insisted that the U.S. troops were needed to provide security, "but the people of Fallujah told them we already have security."

Weapons of mass destruction

U.S. officials said Tuesday that high-ranking Iraqis now in custody are uniformly denying that Saddam's government had any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. The officials said they believe many of the prisoners are lying to protect themselves.

American officials stand by their belief that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons and the means to make more. They have suggested that the weapons were well hidden or destroyed shortly before the war.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair predicted today that those who believe Saddam possessed no weapons of mass destruction will be left "eating some of their words" when the banned arms are found.

"I am absolutely convinced and confident about the case on weapons of mass destruction," Blair told the House of Commons.

In other developments, coalition forces have taken custody of the former governor of Basra after he surrendered to the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress in Baghdad, U.S. Central Command confirmed today.

Walid Hamed Tawfiq al-Tikriti, a member of Saddam's clan, surrendered Tuesday. He was No. 44 on the U.S. military's most-wanted list of 55 Iraqi officials.

Democracy

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in a speech, said imposing foreign political standards on Iraq would not necessarily lead to democracy, or lessen fanaticism, in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

He said those advocating such changes are "intentionally ignoring ... that Arab nations are working hard to achieve democracy according to their own standards."

"We reject the philosophy of imposing democracy by force," Mubarak said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the Iraqi lawyer who helped U.S commandos locate and rescue prisoner of war Jessica Lynch has been granted asylum in the United States.

Ridge identified the man as Mohammed al-Rehaief and said the lawyer and his wife and 5-year-old daughter arrived in the United States this month.

"Americans are grateful for his bravery and for his compassion," Ridge said at the National Press Club.

Lynch, a 20-year-old Army supply clerk from Palestine, W.Va., was captured March 23 after her 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq. She was rescued from an Iraqi hospital April 1.




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