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Saturday, March 18

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors.

GAO report criticizes FBI spending on computer upgrades

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a new study, congressional investigators say lax oversight by the FBI may be to blame for millions of dollars in improper spending on a computer system upgrade.

The 87-page report obtained by CNN, which has not been released to the public, also criticizes the role of the General Services Administration, which provides acquisition and procurement services to agencies.

The study by the Government Accountability Office questions $17 million in spending for the Virtual Case File program, which was part of the FBI's Trilogy computer system. Virtual was launched before the FBI's primary mission changed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In addition, according to the GAO, more than 1,200 pieces of equipment worth more than $7.5 million cannot be accounted for, and it criticizes the FBI's "review and approval process" for contractor invoices.

The FBI told CNN Saturday that its own audit has accounted for most of the equipment. The GAO report concludes that there were "serious internal control weaknesses" in the process used to approve contractor charges related to Virtual, and that the issues identified in the review might be "indicative of more systematic contract and financial management problems."

The current FBI computer system being developed, Sentinel, will cost about $400 million, and the GAO warns in its report that unless accounting procedures are tightened, millions more could be wasted on the new project. (Posted 9:43 p.m.)

Only small DC protests mark third anniversary of Iraq war

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 100 people turned out in Washington Saturday to loudly protest the Iraq war on the brink of its third anniversary.

Anti-war groups gathered at the U.S. Naval Observatory, near the home of Vice President Cheney, and marched about two miles to Dupont Circle, in the heart of the nation's capital, where they held a rally denouncing what they called an "illegal and immoral war."

U.S. and allied troops launched Operation Iraqi Freedom before dawn on March 20, 2003, (March 19 U.S. time). Protesters chanted and held signs with messages like "Troops out Now," "Bush Step Down," "Bring Troops Home," "Hands off Iran" and "Make Levees Not War."

About 150 people held a silent vigil on the West Lawn of the Capitol -- a protest that is held every Saturday -- with the message: "Seek Peace and Pursue It." (Posted 9:35 p.m.)

Bail denied for South Carolina sexual assault suspect

(CNN) -- A judge denied bail Saturday for a South Carolina man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting two teenage girls in an underground bunker behind his home.

Police arrested 47-year-old Kenneth Hinson Friday when he emerged from a wooded area hoping to get a drink of water from his family. He is charged with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault and two counts of assault and battery with intent to kill, said Darlington County Chief Deputy Tom Gainey.

Hinson faces another bond hearing Monday before a circuit court judge on an additional charge of first-degree burglary.

Police believe Hinson kidnapped two 17-year-old girls and sexually assaulted them at his home in Hartsville, S.C., northeast of Columbia. The girls escaped and alerted police Tuesday, launching a massive manhunt, Gainey said.

Hinson was convicted in 1991 for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. He served nine years of his 18-year sentence. (Posted 9:30 p.m.)

Protests against new labor law continue in Paris

PARIS (CNN) -- Riot police barricaded the streets of Paris on Saturday night in an attempt to control crowds of students and union workers who continued their protest against a new labor law they fear will make it easier for employers to fire younger workers.

Video showed bonfires burning amid the protesters and police, some demonstrators throwing bottles, and streets filled with smoke.

Similar demonstrations this week -- which culminated with tens of thousands of demonstrators in Paris on Thursday -- have closed down either partially or totally two-thirds of universities across France.

At the center of it all is the CPE, a law created to give employers more incentive to create jobs by allowing them to hire workers under age 26 for a two-year trial period. Supporters say it encourages employers to hire younger workers.

Critics say employees would have no job security under that trial period and the law gives employers more flexibility in laying off their younger workers.

The law grew out the government's search to do something about youth unemployment after the suburban riots last fall.

Nearly a quarter of French young people are unemployed. (Posted, 3:15 p.m.)

22 bodies found in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Twenty-two bodies have been found in Baghdad on Saturday by Iraqi security forces, police told CNN. Police and soldiers found the bodies in several neighborhoods.

The people were shot in the head. Some showed signs of torture. They could not be immediately identified. (Posted 2:50 p.m. EST)

Feinstein, in radio address, urges Bush administration 'do it right' in Iraq

(CNN) -- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Saturday said Americans expect this year to be a "year of transition" in Iraq and urged President Bush "to urgently exercise the leadership necessary to bring Iraq's political factions together" so Iraqis can start taking control of their country.

"It's now three years into the war and we are fighting a growing insurgency. Even administration officials acknowledge that we've made little progress on the political, security and reconstruction fronts. It didn't have to be this way, but the administration's dangerous incompetence has made the job harder," said Feinstein, the California senator.

"And now that Iraq is on the brink of a civil war, it is more important than ever to do it right." Feinstein delivered these remarks in the Democratic response to Bush's weekly radio address, and devoted the response to the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq -- a nation she described as "bitterly divided" with "sectarian violence" rising and civil war drawing "closer" on a daily basis. (Posted 1:55 p.m.)

Cabinet secretaries, top officials participate in smallpox drill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Bush administration held a "table-top" exercise Saturday to see how the federal government would respond to a potential smallpox attack.

The drill, which took place near the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, lasted a little over four hours, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

"We have no evidence that a smallpox attack is imminent," said Perino, adding, "this was only an exercise."

Several Cabinet secretaries participated in the drill, including Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, and Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. -- From CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano (Posted, 3:49 p.m.)

Slobodan Milosevic buried

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (CNN) --Slobodan Milosevic's remains have been laid to rest in the yard of his family's Serbian home after thousands of supporters gathered in Belgrade to mourn the former Yugoslav president's passing.

The coffin holding Milosevic's body was lowered into the ground in the provincial town of Pozarevac, some 50 miles south of Belgrade, as darkness fell and a brass band played somber music.

Milosevic died last Saturday of heart failure in his cell at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he was on trial for his role in the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Thousands lined the funeral route to Pozarevac as a hearse slowly carried the coffin, CNN's Alessio Vinci reported.

Knots of admirers gathered along the highway to the industrial town, waving to the convoy and tossing flowers onto the road. Black-clad security forces lined the roads. Earlier in Belgrade huge crowds said an emotion farewell to their former leader. The mourners held a minute's silence in view of the late leader's coffin and then broke into cries of "Slobo, Slobo!" and "This is Serbia!" (Posted 12:47 p.m.)

U.S. Navy ships fire on suspected pirates off Somali coast, killing 1, wounding 5

(CNN) -- Two U.S. Navy ships conducting maritime security operations in the Indian Ocean returned fire on a group of suspected pirates Saturday off the coast of Somalia, killing one and wounding five, the Navy said.

No U.S. sailors were injured in the skirmish, which involved the USS Cape St. George, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer.

Pirate attacks and hijackings are common off the coast of the eastern African nation of Somalia. They usually involve U.N. World Food Program vessels carrying relief food.

On Nov. 5, pirates fired rocket-propelled grenades at a 440-foot luxury cruise liner operated by Seabourn Cruise Lines. No one was hurt and the captain was able to get away before the pirates could board the ship. (Posted 11:53 a.m.)

Three years later, Bush calls Iraq invasion 'right decision'

President Bush on Saturday defended the U.S.-led operation in Iraq to topple the Saddam Hussein regime, saying the move was "a difficult decision -- and it was the right decision."

Bush stressed that "more fighting and sacrifice will be required" to defeat the insurgency that has bedeviled U.S.-led forces for years. He said "there is no peace, there's no honor, and there's no security in retreat," which some people, he said, are tempted to support.

The president made the remarks in his weekly radio address, devoted to the nearly three-year-old Iraqi conflict. U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, and the stubborn, bloody and steadily unpopular war enters its fourth year next week. (Posted 11:25 a.m.)

Hamas, Abbas to meet Sunday night over Cabinet plans

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Hamas leaders -- who have been working arduously to incorporate all political factions across the West Bank and Gaza into a new Palestinian government -- plan to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday night over the composition of its proposed Palestinian Cabinet.

The group had been expected to announce its entire Cabinet on Saturday, but the movement leaders said Hamas representatives need to first present its final, proposed slate to Abbas -- who must OK that body.

"There are people, partners, colleagues who are still thinking and debating among themselves whether they would like to join us or not. I hope their response would be positive and they would be able to join us in this government," said Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader designated to become the next Palestinian Authority prime minister.

He hopes the meeting with Abbas will generate "a satisfactory outcome to this Cabinet."

Earlier Saturday, Hamas announced the designees for three of the Cabinet spots -- all longtime Hamas members. They were Mahmoud al-Zahar as foreign minister, Said al-Siyam as interior minister and Umar Abed al-Razek as finance minister. (Posted 10:10 a.m.)

60 people remain in detention during offensive north of Samarra

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Around 60 people detained during the U.S.-Iraqi military sweep north of Samarra remained in custody on Saturday, the third day of the counter-insurgency push in a rural stretch of volatile Salaheddin province, a U.S. military spokesman said.

A spokesman for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division said the 60 were among 80 picked up since the start of the offensive, dubbed Operation Swarmer.

The others had been released. Swarmer is targeting villages in sparsely populated farmland northeast of Samarra, the site of the bombing last month of Askariya Mosque, a Shiite shrine.

That Feb. 22 attack set off a wave of Shiite reprisals and Sunni counter-reprisals that caused many deaths and strikes on mosques and sparked fears of full-blown civil warfare.

Weapons have been confiscated during Swarmer, but resistance to the forces has been described as very light and there have been no reports of casualties and firefights during the operation. (Posted 8:20 a.m.)

Thousands of mourners bid farewell to Slobodan Milosevic

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of mourners packed a square in front of Belgrade's federal parliament on Saturday to bid a final farewell to Slobodan Milosevic, who died while on trial for war crimes before a U.N. tribunal in the Hague.

"Slobo, the Serb!" and "Murderers!" the crowd chanted when the blue minivan carrying the coffin of the former Yugoslav president pulled up outside the parliament building.

The coffin was on display for mourners who regarded Milosevic as a Serbian patriot and a national hero. (Posted 8:20 a.m.)

Defense Ministry: 6 confess to killing Iraqi journalist last week

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An Iraqi Defense Ministry official told CNN on Saturday that six people recently detained during an Iraqi army operation have confessed to the killing of a top local journalist.

The six had been detained in the Abu Ghraib area of western Baghdad two days ago during a search and cordon operation staged by the Iraqi army, the official said.

Later, the six confessed to killing Amjad Hamid Hassan, director of the state-owned TV station Iraqiya last week in western Baghdad, the official said. The official said soldiers learned from interrogations that two other people might have been involved in the killing and they are being sought. The journalist and his driver were killed last Saturday in a drive-by shooting. (Posted 8:20 a.m.)

Preliminary lab tests indicate Egyptian woman died of bird flu

CAIRO (CNN) -- Initial testing indicated that an Egyptian woman who died Thursday near Cairo was a victim of bird flu, a World Health Organization spokesman said.

If confirmed by the next level of testing, it would be Egypt's first human case of the disease.

The 30-year-old woman, who had "significant contact with poultry," first showed symptoms of the illness on March 6 and she died Thursday, according to WHO spokesman Dick Thompson.

Tests conducted by the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit in Cairo indicated the woman died of bird flu, but the confirmation does not become official until the samples are tested at a WHO reference lab, Thompson said. The samples have been packaged for shipment from Cairo to a WHO lab in London or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, he said. (Posted 6:52 a.m.)

Two U.S. soldiers killed near Tikrit

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in an indirect fire attack on a base near the city of Tikrit, the U.S. military said.

Both soldiers were part of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and assigned to Task Force Band of Brothers' Soldiers, the military said.

Another U.S. soldier was wounded in the same attack which the military said happened at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, northwest of Tikrit.

Also Thursday, another U.S. soldier assigned to the same task force was "shot and killed while manning an observation post in Samarra," the military said. That soldier was not involved in Operation Swarmer, a major military operation against insurgents near Samarra, the military said.

The deaths Thursday bring the number of U.S. deaths in the war to 2,316. (Posted 3:10 a.m.)

Two roadside bombs wound Iraqi soldiers, pilgrims

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A roadside bomb exploded as a group of Shiite pilgrims walked by on their pilgrimage from Baghdad south to Karbala Saturday morning, Baghdad emergency police said.

Nine of the pilgrims were wounded by the blast, which happened at 8 a.m. local time in southwestern Baghdad, police said. The pilgrims were headed to Karbala to commemorate Arbaeen, the end of the 40-day period commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. That day falls on Monday -- also the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Another roadside bomb exploded in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Mustansriya as an Iraqi Army patrol passed by at 8 a.m. local time Saturday, police said. Five Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the explosion, police said. (Posted 3:09 a.m.)

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