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In a day full of surprises, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon offered the post of defense chief in a unity government to former opposition Labor Party leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shimon Peres, radio reports from Jerusalem said. The move followed the sudden reversal by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who late Tuesday backed out of his agreement to take the defense post and said he'd quit politics. Sharon aides refused to confirm the report. Peres had been expected to accept the post of foreign minister.

Without opposition in Parliament, the government of India extended for another month its unilateral - but shaky - cease-fire in disputed Kashmir. The truce, which began last Nov. 26, restricts Indian forces from taking offensive initiatives against Islamic guerrilla groups who have been fighting to make the state independent or a part of rival Pakistan. One such group called the extension "a fraud" and accused India of using it to increase its forces in Kashmir.

Followers of the banned Falun Gong movement who have "woken up" should not be excluded from society, an unusually conciliatory commentary by China's official Xinhua news agency said. Analysts said the wording, issued as International Olympic Committee officials were beginning an evaluation of Beijing's bid to stage the 2008 summer Games, suggested an admission by the government that its crackdown against the movement had gone too far.


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