Castro denies McCain's claims of torture




HAVANA &

Ailing leader Fidel Castro today denied U.S. presidential hopeful John McCain's claim that Cuban agents helped torture American prisoners of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, calling the assertion "a strange legend."




"Let me remind you, Mr. McCain: the commandments of the religion you practice prohibit lying," Castro wrote in an essay published by the Communist Party newspaper Granma. "The years in prison and the wounds received because of the attacks on Hanoi do not excuse you from the moral obligation of the truth," the essay added.




McCain, Republican front-runner for the November presidential contest, was a military pilot taken prisoner in 1967 and held for five years in communist North Vietnam.




McCain has said that while he was held in Hanoi, a Cuban agent came to show his Vietnamese captors "some new interrogation techniques." While he has said that Cubans helped torture other American prisoners, they were not among those who tortured him.




McCain declined to respond directly to the Cuban leader's denial.




"Look, for me to respond to Fidel Castro, who has oppressed and repressed his people and is one of the most brutal dictators on earth, for me to dignify any charges or comments he might make is beneath me," McCain told reporters today in Annapolis, Md.




Chad demands removal of refugees




N'DJAMENA, Chad &

Chad's prime minister demanded tonday that the international community remove refugees who have fled to Chad from Sudan's Darfur region, warning that Chadian authorities would otherwise do it themselves.




Prime Minister Nouradin Koumakoye charged that Sudan's government has fomented violence in Chad &

including backing a failed coup attempt last week &

because of the presence of refugees from Sudan's Darfur.




Sudan has denied that it backs Chadian rebels, who often clash with government forces in the east and advanced into the capital, in the southwest, before being expelled last week.




"We are being attacked by Sudan because of these refugees," Koumakoye told reporters in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena.




"We demand that the international community transfer the population (of Sudanese refugees) from Chad to Sudan to free us," he said. "We want the international community to look for another country so that the Sudanese can leave. If they cannot do it, we are going to do it."




Hamas leaders take precautions




GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip &

Leaders of Gaza's ruling Hamas movement have gone into hiding, fearing Israeli assassination attempts in response to a wave of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel, officials said today.




Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the military to prepare to invade Gaza, and told Israeli lawmakers that under certain circumstances, Israel would "even take down Hamas."




Barak spoke at a closed parliamentary meeting whose discussions routinely are leaked to the media. It was the first time a senior Israeli official hinted so strongly that Israel was prepared to overthrow Hamas if the Palestinians didn't do it themselves.




Israel, which is negotiating a peace deal with moderate Palestinians based in the West Bank, has made it clear it has no intention of implementing any accord until Hamas is removed from power in Gaza.




The Islamic militants, who are committed to Israel's destruction, violently wrested control of the tiny seaside territory in June from security forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's partner in peace negotiations.




"" The Associated Press