Shiite cleric urges rejection of US-Iraqi pact

BAGHDAD - Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged Iraq's parliament to reject a pact that would extend U.S. presence in Iraq for three years as tens of thousands of his followers marched through Baghdad's streets Saturday to reinforce that demand.

The large turnout points to trouble ahead for the U.S.-Iraqi security deal as Sunni and Shiite lawmakers weigh the political risks associated with the far-reaching agreement.

Waving Iraqi flags and green Shiite banners, protesters chanted slogans condemning the pact. The demonstration in the mostly Shiite eastern part of Baghdad was staged under tight security, with army soldiers and police manning checkpoints along the route.

'I am with every Sunni, Shiite or Christian who is opposed to the agreement ... and I reject, condemn and renounce the presence of occupying forces and bases on our beloved land,' al-Sadr said in a message read to the crowd on his behalf by a senior aide.

China to help build 2 Pakistan nuclear plants

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan said China will help build two more nuclear power plants in the energy-starved Muslim nation, tightening its bonds with Beijing as rising militant violence strains its anti-terror alliance with the United States.

The nuclear agreement was among a dozen economic cooperation accords signed during President Asif Ali Zardari's recent visit to Beijing, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Saturday.

While Qureshi gave few details, enhanced cooperation with China will likely help ease Pakistan's resentment of a recent deal allowing U.S. businesses to sell nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to neighboring archrival India.

U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who held talks in Islamabad on Saturday, have rejected Pakistani calls for equal treatment - usually with reference to Pakistan's past history of leaking sensitive nuclear secrets.

The Pakistan-China deal however comes as Russia is helping to build a nuclear plant in Iran.