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Powell: Syria has closed offices of terrorists BEIRUT, Lebanon - Syria has shut down the offices of some Palestinian groups regarded as terrorist organizations by the United States, fulfilling a long-standing U.S. demand, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saturday.

"They did closures," Powell told reporters here after traveling from the Syrian capital, Damascus, where he and President Bashar Assad met for nearly three hours.

Powell specifically mentioned three groups - the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas; Palestinian Islamic Jihad; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command - in his conversation with Assad, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Powell's plane.

In the talks, Powell brought up a variety of issues that have troubled the United States, including Syria's alleged possession of chemical weapons, its military support of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and child custody disputes between Syrians and their American spouses. Powell also pressed Syria to keep its border with Iraq sealed and turn over any Iraqi officials hiding in Syria.

China lets WHO visit Taiwan in SARS fight BEIJING - China agreed Saturday to let the World Health Organization visit Taiwan in its fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome, putting aside politics after reports the island's number of SARS cases has doubled in a week.

China did not explain its decision, but the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a Ministry of Health spokesman, Liu Peilong, as saying Friday that the mainland was monitoring the epidemic's development in Taiwan and was "concerned about the health and well-being" of the people. The report did not give more details.

Eighteen new deaths were reported Saturday in east Asia, pushing the global death toll to 436. Nine deaths were in mainland China and nine were in Hong Kong.

Oil rig hostages gain their freedom PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria - Many of the hostages left the offshore oil rigs where striking Nigerian oil workers held them captive for weeks - signaling a peaceful end to the standoff Saturday.

Some essential staff would remain behind on the four oil-drilling platforms, but "everyone else, they are departing in phases," said Guy Cantwell, spokesman for rig owner Transocean Inc., based in Houston.

Many of the 170 Nigerian and 97 expatriate hostages - which include 35 Britons, 17 Americans and two Canadians - traveled Saturday with their 100 captors on boats and helicopters to port cities in Nigeria's oil-rich southern Niger Delta.

Nigerian oil workers took the hostages as part of a wildcat strike launched April 19 over grievances with Transocean's management.

Welsh jeans maker gets the blues from Levi's LONDON - The U.S. company that invented blue jeans and a distinctive cloth tab to go with them has accused a British clothing company of violating its 65-year-old trademark.

Levi Strauss & Co., the 150-year-old San Francisco maker of all things denim, has warned Wales-based Howies to stop selling jeans with a gray, cloth tab label bearing its brand name. In a letter, Levis warned Howies that it might create "customer confusion," with its own red tab.

The small Welsh company, which has just five employees and annual sales of less than $500,000, feels it's being picked on by a giant with a global staff of 12,000 and sales of $4 billion.

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