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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

German president: U.S. too eager to fight BERLIN — Germany's president expressed concern Monday that the United States had lowered the threshold for war with its invasion of Iraq, but he also criticized some in his own nation for their harsh tone in opposing U.S. policy.

Johannes Rau, whose post is largely ceremonial, urged German and U.S. leaders to repair their bitter rift over Iraq and insisted that Europe and America depend on each other "to solve the great challenges of our time."

But Rau echoed a widespread sentiment in Germany when he questioned U.S. policy in a foreign affairs speech in Berlin, just days after German leaders tried to smooth relations during a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

While war must be allowed as a last resort, "I see the danger that when we speak of 'last resort,' we are actually in a process of getting accustomed, where military intervention and war ultimately become one means among many," Rau said.

Marine helicopter crashes in Iraq WASHINGTON — A Marine Corps transport helicopter crashed Monday in central Iraq near Karbala with at least four people aboard, and there were no indications of survivors, Pentagon officials said.

Another servicemember drowned while trying to rescue the crew of the downed helicopter, a Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed into a canal southeast of Karbala, the official said. Lt. Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said there was no indication whether or not it was downed by hostile action.

Shiites demand end to U.S. occupation BAGHDAD, Iraq — Thousands of Shiite Muslims staged the largest protest against America's presence in Iraq since the war's end with a noisy but peaceful rally. The well-organized march Monday was policed by men carrying AK-47s who did not confront nearby U.S. soldiers keeping watch.

Since Saddam Hussein's ouster by coalition troops last month, there has been a spate of smaller gatherings, some of them hundreds strong, demanding that occupying forces withdraw. But Monday's march was the biggest in terms of numbers, and had a distinctly political message.

Carrying portraits of ayatollahs and other religious leaders, the crowd, which swelled at one point to 10,000, chanted "No Shiites and no Sunnis — just Islamic unity" and sang religious songs. "No to the foreign administration," one banner unfurled by the marchers said.

Striking French teachers stop year-end exams PARIS — Striking teachers in southern France prevented students from taking part of their high school graduation exams Monday, disrupting the centerpiece of the country's education system.

The action, part of nationwide protests by public sector workers against government pension reform plans, split the union movement and drew angry reactions from government leaders.

Also Monday, about 335,000 public sector workers, including postal and state-owned France Telecom employees, marched through Paris and other French cities Monday to protest plans to reform the retirement system — in part by making teachers and other public employees work longer to qualify for full pensions.

A Paris protest drew at least 38,000. Another 25,000 marched in the southern city of Marseille. At least seven other cities and towns saw marches with more than 10,000 people.

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