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President Bush, in a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, won agreement on the need to avoid escalating the violence in the Middle East. But a new five-year forecast by Israeli military planners indicates fighting with Palestinians could widen into a regional war, the respected Haaretz newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority imposed an embargo on agricultural products from Israel until the latter lifts its 10-month blockade of Palestinian goods.

It's time to leave, officials of the ruling Taliban movement in Afghanistan told Western diplomats after a visit of less than a week, during which they were repeatedly refused permission to see eight jailed aid workers charged with promoting Christianity. The diplomats said they were told to be patient and that further pressure may be counterproductive. But Taliban officials agreed to deliver packages of cookies, toiletries, and letters to the detainees. Below, Alistair Adams (l.) of Australia hands over a bag of such items to his escorts in Kabul, the capital.

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A new $15 billion aid package to help ease cash-strapped Argentina through its new austerity plan was expected to be announced as the Monitor went to press. Reports said the deal would consist of $6 billion from the International Monetary Fund, $3 billion from private and multilateral banks, and the rest from other sources. But analysts said they believe it will become increasingly difficult for President Fernando de la Rua's government to stick to his $1.3 billion belt-tightening program approved by Congress late last month in the face of mounting public protests.

An unprecedented new study on smoking in China projected a medical catastrophe without immediate action to curb cigarette use. Researchers from universities in Hong Kong and Britain said their study showed half of middle-age smokers, the most productive members of the workforce, "will eventually be killed by tobacco." China, they said, accounts for 30 percent of the world's tobacco market, and packs of cigarettes can be bought for as little as 12 cents. Conversely, tobacco taxes bring the national government $12.5 billion a year - 10 percent of all state revenues.

By an overwhelming margin, the union representing elementary school teachers in Ontario voted to lobby for the introduction of homosexual and transgender literature to kindergartens beginning next year. The provincial government and regional school boards will be asked to pay for such books, a spokeswoman for the Elementary Teachers Federation said, on grounds they may help make children with same-sex parents feel more comfortable in class.


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