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Top of the News

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The latest headlines.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Thanks, Alison. Iraq's prime minister has extended a deadline for Shiite militants in the city of Basra to hand over their weapons by ten days. Militants now have until April 8th to turn over their guns and other weapons to security sites. Iraqi officials have promised them financial reward if they comply.

Basra, Baghdad, and many cities in between have been stricken with violence in the past week as Shiite militants clash with Iraqi forces. Fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr remain in control of much of Basra. In Baghdad, where Sadr militiamen have also attacked U.S. and government forces, authorities have imposed a three-day curfew to contain the clashes there. The BBC's Crispin Thorold is in Baghdad.

CRISPIN THOROLD: Between now and five o'clock local time on Sunday morning, no one is going to be allowed to move in the city of Baghdad and it's really an indication of how bad the security situation here has become. It's been one of the most violent days in Iraq for many months and there've been clashes in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad, gunfire exchanged between members of the Mahdi army and between Iraqi security forces.

We've also had clashes between the Mahdi army and U.S. forces in Kadhimiya and other strongholds of the Mahdi army. It's not just Baghdad and Basra, but it's also places like the cities in between Baghdad and Basra, places like Kut, Hila, Diwaniya, and in Basra itself, the fighting has also been intense.

MARTIN: That's the BBC's Crispin Thorold reporting from Baghdad. U.S. Central Command is getting a new leader, at least temporarily. Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey will assume control of CENTCOM today during a ceremony at Florida's MacDill Air Force Base. In that role, he'll oversee both the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dempsey has been deputy commander at CENTCOM since last August. He'll serve as acting commander until President Bush chooses a replacement and gets that person confirmed by the Senate. Navy Admiral William Fallon announced his resignation as head of CENTCOM earlier this month.

And finally, France has pulled a type of Italian mozzarella from its stores because of possible contamination. France's health minister is ordering stores to stop selling mozzarella made from buffalo milk from the Campania region of Italy. Samples of that cheese were found to have higher-than-allowed levels of cancer-causing dioxin.

The ministry is calling today's order a precautionary measure pending tests. The European Union has warned Italy to make sure that dioxin-tainted mozzarella does not end up on store shelves. That's the news. It's always online at npr.org.

BILL WOLFF: This is NPR.

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