Liberia to rebuild diamond industry

MONROVIA, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally opened 10 diamond screening and evaluation offices across Liberia yesterday, the first step toward restarting the industry after the end of a six-year ban by the United Nations.

The ban on Liberian diamonds, imposed in 2001 when so-called blood diamonds were being used to fuel civil wars in western Africa, was lifted Friday by the United Nations. The United Nations cited steps taken by the country toward joining an international program to certify the diamonds' origin and ensure that they were mined legally.

At a ceremony in the town of Tubmanburg, Sirleaf urged Liberians to avoid more sanctions by embracing the international certification system, called the Kimberley Process. Group members agree to trade only certified diamonds. - AP

U.N. cites progress and risk in Darfur

UNITED NATIONS - The international community has made progress in easing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, but those efforts could unravel because of the "total failure" to bring lasting security to the Sudanese region, the top U.N. refugee official said yesterday.

The assessment by Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, came as he took stock of the refugee situation in Sudan and Iraq.

Recently returned from Darfur, he said the United Nations had assisted in the return of 30,000 Sudanese refugees in the first four months of the year, a figure that trumped repatriation levels for all of 2006. But for that level to be sustainable, security must be realized in the region, and this can be accomplished only through a comprehensive and effective peace agreement, Guterres said. - AP

Stampede kills 7 at Tunisia concert

TUNIS, Tunisia - A stampede at an open-air concert by stars of the Arab version of

American Idol

killed seven young people and injured 32 in southern Tunisia, a Health Ministry official said yesterday.

Fans swarmed the stage late Monday in the southern city of Sfax at the "Star Academy" concert attended by more than 10,000 people, the TAP news agency reported.

Six boys and young men aged 12 to 21 were trampled to death, and one girl, age unknown, died of injuries, a Health Ministry official said.- AP

Elsewhere:

Nearly half of the British Royal Navy personnel who had been held by Iran are back in the Persian Gulf searching for smugglers, Britain's military said yesterday.

Gunmen armed with dynamite assaulted a Chevron Corp. tanker in Nigeria's southern oil-producing region yesterday, killing a government sailor and kidnapping an American oil worker and five other foreigners, authorities said.

Thirty animal-rights activists were arrested yesterday in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands for allegedly targeting animal research, British police said.

Estonia's foreign minister canceled a meeting with Russian lawmakers yesterday, saying they were spreading lies about a Soviet war monument whose removal from a Tallinn square last week provoked riots.