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The first meeting on administering postwar Iraq is scheduled for Tuesday between US officials and representatives of the nation's religious and political interests. But long-exiled Ahmed Chalabi, the opposition leader widely expected to head an interim administration, told a Paris newspaper he is "absolutely not" a candidate for any political post. The meeting, at Nasiriyah, comes as US forces arrived at the "transition point" in the war by securing control of Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit.

In other war-related news: • US soldiers found thousands of paper and microfilm files in a search of Baath Party buildings in Baghdad, along with bags of shredded documents, all of which may contain valuable intelligence. Commanding Gen. Tommy Franks said "average Iraqis in huge numbers" also have provided tips on where to find weapons caches.

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• The US was being urged by foreign diplomats to cool its rhetoric against Syria, which is accused of harboring wanted Iraqi leaders and banned weapons. But Britain and Israel kept up the pressure on the Damascus government, with Israel expected to demand that it cease its support for Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other extremist organizations.

A new statement on the future intentions of the Irish Republican Army left doubts about whether its guerrilla campaign in Northern Ireland is over. The British and Irish Republic governments were seeking clarification of the IRA declaration on surrendering its huge weapons cache and on renouncing all hostilities. Sinn Fein, the political party allied with the IRA, said the concerns would be addressed, but without using the specific wording demanded by Northern Ireland's Protestants.

In an about-face, senior leaders in China said they are "very worried" about SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), after weeks of maintaining that the illness was under control. New President Hu Jintao visited hospitals in hard-hit Guang-zhou province and called for urgency in combating the problem. But in Hong Kong, seven more deaths from SARS were reported, pushing the global total to 144.

Nine years of rule by the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) were on the line in Canada's only French-speaking province as voters chose 125 members of their legislature. The outcome was considered likely to be close; opinion polls showed the opposition Liberal Party with a slight edge over the PQ. A PQ defeat would deal a heavy blow to its hopes for a new referendum on Quebec sovereignty.


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