Niger gunmen kill 3 Saudi tourists

NIAMEY, Niger - Unidentified gunmen shot dead three tourists from Saudi Arabia in an attack yesterday in Niger's remote western desert, officials said. Three other Saudi citizens were wounded, Niger government spokesman Mamane Kassoum Moktar said.

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled bin Saud told Al-Arabiya TV that the tourists were leaving Niger for neighboring Mali when they were attacked around dawn after stopping their vehicle to perform morning prayers.

It was not clear what sparked the violence, but local insurgents, bandits, and members of al-Qaeda's Algeria-based North Africa branch are believed to be active in the remote deserts near the Mali frontier. Saud said al-Qaeda was active in the area, "but we have no proof" they were involved. "It appears to us so far that it was a robbery," Saud said.

Moktar said two guides from Mali who had been escorting the Saudis were found by police with their hands tied. - AP

Iranians in Iraqi prison not eating

BAGHDAD - About 40 Iranians held in an Iraqi prison are on a hunger strike to demand meetings with Iranian officials about their cases, an Iraqi government official said yesterday.

The strike, which began Sunday, has been peaceful, said Mohammed Radhi, a lawyer who works for the state-run Human Rights Commission. The prisoners are being held in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. A police official said they had not been allowed to talk to the Iranian Embassy.

The prisoners were convicted of illegally crossing the border to commit terrorist acts and sentenced to five to seven years behind bars, the police official said.

No further information was available about individual prisoners or their cases. Iraqi and American officials have long accused Iran of supporting insurgents in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad was not available yesterday. - AP

Polanski thanks letter-writers

PARIS - Filmmaker Roman Polanski says that letters from supporters that he received in a Swiss jail and while under house arrest at his Alpine chalet have been "full of comfort and reason to hope."

Polanski's first public comments since his Sept. 26 arrest at the Zurich airport came in a letter transmitted to French philosopher and friend Bernard-Henri Levy, who put them online Sunday at the director's request.

Polanski, 76, is waiting to learn whether he will be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted in Los Angeles for sentencing for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. He said he had received messages from neighbors and people around the world.

Polanski was transferred Dec. 4 to house arrest after more than 60 days in a Swiss jail. He must wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. - AP

Elsewhere:

Two men wed yesterday in Argentina's southern Tierra del Fuego province in Latin America's first same-sex marriage, a provincial official said. Buenos Aires officials earlier this month refused to marry them because of conflicting rulings.