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Tony Blair: Don't blame me for delaying Iraq war report

London: Tony Blair insisted he was "absolutely and emphatically" not responsible for delaying a key report into Britain's role in the Iraq war and accused others of seeking to use the controversy to win votes.

Confirmation that the Iraq Inquiry findings will not be published before May's general election sparked a chorus of complaints in Westminster, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying it would raise fears the final verdict was being "sexed down by individuals rebutting criticisms put to them by the inquiry".

But the clear swipe at Mr Blair - whose case for taking the country to war with Saddam Hussein in 2003 was alleged to have been "sexed up" - drew a sharp response from the former Prime Minister.

Not only did he have "as much interest as anybody" in having the conclusions of the six-year process made public, but he had been instrumental in ensuring the inquiry was free to publish his notes to the US President George Bush in the run-up to the US-led invasion, he insisted.

"Just to state absolutely and emphatically, this is not to do with me, or as far as I'm aware any other witness," he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"I've as much interest as anybody in wanting to see the report published.

"The only issue was how much of those is it right publicly to publish. That has now been decided that they will be, partially at my own recommendation: if you're going to publish them, publish them. If you're going to do it, do it so that people can see it."

The inquiry was set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011, but publication has been held up by wrangling over the release of the confidential messages and the so-called "Maxwellisation" process by which people who are criticised in the report are given the chance to respond.

Inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot has revealed that Mr Blair's notes to Mr Bush will now be published alongside the report with only "a very small number of essential redactions".

Among those criticising the delay was also Rose Gentle, from Glasgow, whose 19-year-old soldier son Gordon was among those who died in Iraq.

"We just feel totally let down. We just feel it's just going to be a total whitewash now," she said.

Extremist leader claims 2,000 killings

Nigeria: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility for the mass killings in the town of Baga and threatened more violence.

As many as 2,000 civilians were killed and 3,700 homes and businesses destroyed in the January 3 attack on the town near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, said Amnesty International.

The leader of Nigeria’s Islamic extremists took responsibility for the killings in a video posted on YouTube yesterday, the same day International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she was examining the allegations of mass killings and will prosecute those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria.

“We are the ones who fought the people of Baga, and we have killed them with such a killing as He (Allah) commanded us in his book,” Shekau says, according to a translation from Arabic provided by SITE Intelligence Group.

The video shows weapons supposedly captured from a key military base at Baga.

“This is just the beginning of the killings. What you’ve just witnessed is a tip of the iceberg. More deaths are coming,” said Shekau.

Man shot after stabbing 11 people on Tel Aviv bus

Israel: A Palestinian man stabbed 11 people on and near a bus in Tel Aviv, seriously wounding three of them before he was shot and arrested by police.

Police described the assault as a terrorist attack, and the Islamic militant group Hamas praised it.

The man began stabbing people, including the driver, then got off the bus and ran away. Officers from a prison saw the bus swerving out of control and a man running away. They gave chase, shot the man in the leg and arrested him.

We’re doing all we can to free two IS hostages, says Japan PM

Tokyo: Japan is doing all it can to free two hostages the Islamic State (IS) is threatening to kill within 72 hours, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday.

Mr Abe returned to Tokyo from a six-day Middle East tour and convened a cabinet meeting.

“We are fighting against time, and we’ll make an all-out effort and use every diplomatic route that we have developed to win the release of the two,” he said, adding: “We will never give in to terrorism.”

He refused to discuss if Japan would pay the ransom for the captives, journalist Kenji Goto (47) and 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa, the founder of a private security company. IS demanded a ransom of $200m (£132m)  for the men.

British soldier is charged with child sex offences

Austria: A British soldier has been charged over child sex allegations.

The accused, who has not been named, was arrested in the country in November.

A spokesman for the Army said: “The Army is aware that a soldier has been charged in Austria following allegations of child sexual offences.

“This matter is now subject to criminal proceedings led by the Austrian authorities and it is therefore inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.” The Foreign Office confirmed it was aware of the arrest of a British national.

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