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UPDATED: 14:04, June 25, 2004
Violence continues in Iraq
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The US military said in a statement late Friday that two US soldiers and an Iraqi civilian truck driver were killed in insurgent attacks Friday in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

The statement said that assailants fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at a tanker truck in a convoy in Abu Ghraib on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Twelve other were injured in the attack.

In another incident, a 1st Cavalry Division soldier was killed in an attack by roadside bombs and small arms on a US base in northern Baghdad.

Earlier in the day, a large explosion, probably caused by a mortar strike, hit the vicinity of a luxury hotel near the square where Saddam Hussein's landmark statue was torn down a year ago.

Witnesses said a sports club near the Ishtar Sheraton Hotel, located near the Firdows Square, was hit by a 120-mm mortar round but there was no report of casualties.

Also on Friday, Iraqi insurgents said they had seized four Italians and two Americans on the western outskirts of Baghdad.

In Fallujah, the battles between US marines and insurgents continued into Friday night. Earlier in the day, the US troops called for women and children to exit the city, but blocked men from leaving as they looked to hunt down those responsible for thebrutal killing last week of four US contractors.

During Friday prayers in Sadr city in Baghdad, the mainly Shiite neighborhood, in a message read by one of his aides, SheikhJaber al Khafagi, Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr described US President George W. Bush as an "enemy" and advised him to pull his troops out of Iraq or face a revolution.

"I address my enemy Bush. You are now fighting the whole nation,we advise you to withdraw from Iraq," the message read.

Russia urges US to halt use of force,protesters across Mideast denounce violence

Russia on Friday called on US-led forces in Iraq to refrain from "disproportionate" use of force and halt their latest offensive in a statements released by the Foreign Ministry.

At Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, some 500 men protested following Friday prayers, describing Bush as "the enemy of God" and demanding their government to expel the American and Israeli ambassadors from Egypt.

In Lebanon's largest refugee camp, about 2,000 Palestinians protested "US massacres" in Fallujah and Najaf.

In Damascus, Syria, about 500 people marched in protest of the increasing violence in Iraq, waving Iraqi and Syrian flags.

The Libyan state television announced late Friday that Saturdaywill be a day of "mourning" for the "martyrs" who were killed in Fallujah by US troops.

Bush phones allied leaders, Cheney heads for Asia

Bush spoke by phone on Friday with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Francisco Flores of El Salvador, discussing military operations inIraq.

At present, nearly 3,000 Italian troops, 2,400 Polish and 380 Salvadoran are serving in Iraq.

By now, seventeen Italians have died in Iraq, along with one soldier each from El Salvador and Poland.

Also on Friday, US Vice President Dick Cheney departed for Asia,expected to urge US key allies Japan and South Korea to stay the course on Iraq.

Japan has deployed 550 troops in Iraq, and South Korea declaredthat it would go ahead with plans to send 3,000 troops to Iraq.

Three Japanese nationals were kidnapped by an armed group in Iraq, which threatened to kill their captives unless Japan pull out its troops before a Sunday deadline.

Source: Xinhua

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