Iraq steps u security for vote

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. and Iraqi forces stepped up security across the country Thursday and prepared to impose an overnight curfew to try to reduce insurgent attacks aimed at wrecking this weekend's constitutional referendum.

One day after Iraqi lawmakers approved a set of last-minute amendments to the constitution without a vote, sealing a compromise designed to win minority Sunni Arab support for the charter, cities such as Baghdad were unusually quiet Thursday as a four-day national holiday began.

Government offices and schools were closed ahead of Saturday's vote.

The government ordered a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew to begin Thursday, and Iraq's borders will be closed today and all travel among its provinces stopped.

President Bush sought to rally U.S. troops in Iraq ahead of the vote and to brace them for an expected surge in violence, saying ''the enemy understands that a free Iraq would be a blow to their vision.''

Priest draws ire after 'Nazi' remark

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - A Catholic priest who witnessed Irish Republican Army disarmament - an act supposed to build Protestant support for Northern Ireland's peace process - apologized Thursday for comparing the province's Protestant community to the Nazis.

The Rev. Alec Reid made his comments at a public meeting Wednesday night, when he initially angered Protestants by saying that the IRA did not target Protestants. More than 350 of the approximately 1,770 people killed by the IRA were Protestant civilians, while nearly 500 more were local Protestant members of the police and British army.

One particularly incensed audience member, Willie Frazer - whose father, two uncles and several other relatives were killed by the IRA - accused Reid's Catholic west Belfast monastery of lending support to the IRA.

''The reality is that the (Irish) nationalist community in Northern Ireland were treated almost like animals by the (Protestant) unionist community. They were not treated like human beings. It was like the Nazis' treatment of the Jews,'' Reid said.

Majority unlikely for Liberian candidates

MONROVIA, Liberia - A runoff election likely will be needed to decide Liberia's presidential race, with early returns showing a former soccer star running closely with the country's most popular female politician, officials said Thursday.

Initial results from Tuesday's presidential balloting - Liberia's first since the end of a 14-year civil war - showed George Weah and Harvard-educated politician Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf leading the field of 22 candidates. No one appeared likely to get the simple majority required to avoid a runoff, said National Electoral Commission Chairman Frances Morris.

Ukrainian, NATO troops conduct drill

YAVORIV MILITARY TRAINING FACILITY, Ukraine - Ukraine staged a major NATO-led anti-terrorism and disaster relief exercise Thursday, a step that this ex-Soviet republic hopes might improve its chances of joining the Western military alliance.

The four-day drill, held near Ukraine's border with NATO-member Poland, finished with a simulated terrorist attack on a chemical facility.

Report: Syrian's death a suicide

IDAMASCUS, Syria - A state investigation into the death of Syria's interior minister found he committed suicide shortly after returning to his office from a brief trip home, but some Arab media outlets Thursday quickly cast doubt on that explanation.

Ghazi Kenaan shot himself Wednesday with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, according to a statement by chief public attorney Muhammad al-Louji that was quoted in Syria's state-run newspaper Tishrin.

Al-Louji said that following an examination of the body and interviews with witnesses, ''it was confirmed that ... Kenaan placed the tip of the revolver in his mouth and fired it,'' Tishrin reported.

Chinese astronaut celebrates birthday

BEIJING - A Chinese astronaut celebrated his birthday in orbit on Thursday, as the flight of his Shenzhou 6 capsule entered its second day, setting a new record for the length of a Chinese space mission.

Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng blasted off Wednesday on China's second manned space mission, a costly project meant to affirm Beijing's status as a rising world power.

Turkey bird flu is deadly H5N1 strain

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union on Thursday said the bird flu virus found in Turkish poultry was the H5N1 strain that scientists worry might mutate into a human virus and spark a pandemic. Turkey's health minister said the outbreak had been contained.

''We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus,'' said EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

- From wire reports