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IRA WARNED TO DISARM OR PUT IRELAND PEACE ACCORD AT RISK

The Irish Republican Army must start to disarm or watch Northern Ireland's peace deal unravel, Ireland's prime minister warned Tuesday.

Bertie Ahern gave the unusually gloomy assessment to a briefing of Irish lawmakers a day after he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair led talks among Northern Ireland parties designed to salvage their joint Catholic-Protestant government.

Ahern, normally upbeat about the peace process, said it looked increasingly likely that the power-sharing government would face suspension or collapse. He appealed to the outlawed IRA to prevent this by fulfilling its year-old pledge to disarm.

A visibly frustrated Ahern said the IRA's willingness to show some of its secret weapons depots to diplomats, and to hold occasional talks with disarmament officials, was "not enough."

Gates donates $100 million
to global fight against AIDS

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday donated $100 million to an international health fund to fight AIDS and called on European Union nations and other countries to make further contributions.

"A dramatic increase in funding is necessary and required to fight the pandemic," said foundation President Patty Stonesifer.

Stonesifer said the fight against AIDS was a "top priority" for Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the world's richest people.

The announcement of the contribution to the global fund was made ahead of a key U.N. conference on AIDS to be held next week in New York.

Mexican president defends
purchase of pricey towels

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexican President Vicente Fox on Tuesday defended his purchase of $443 towels for the presidential residence, part of a series of pricey official purchases made public by the federal comptroller's office.

Fox dismissed criticism of the purchases and instead praised his government's new open-records policy, which made the expenses public.

"Today, the price we pay for the towels we use here, in the residence that belongs to all of you, is public; it's on the Internet," Fox said during a speech to health officials.

The embroidered towels costing $443 each, sets of luxury bedsheets costing $1,000 apiece and $19,000 electrically operated curtains were all bought with taxpayers' money as part of the remodeling of Los Pinos, the official Mexico City residence of the president.

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