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Secretary of State Powell may return to Israel as soon as Friday to try to prod the Jewish state and the Palestinians back to following the road map to peace, reports said. The reports emerged as talks on quelling terrorism were taking place between Israel's secret service chief and senior US officials in Washington, between a Powell deputy and senior Palestinians, and between new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and representatives of all Palestinian militant groups. But the Jerusalem newspaper Haaretz said Powell could still back out of such a visit if no common ground was found before he arrived.

Reacting angrily to an agreed effort by 11 other nations to block its ships if they're believed to carry contraband, North Korea vowed "limitless" and "physical" retaliation that would engulf neighboring Japan "immediately." The agreement came last week at a meeting in Spain to deal with North Korean vessels carrying narcotics, counterfeit money, or components for weapons of mass destruction, which are seen as the increasingly isolated communist nation's principal source of foreign exchange. The US leads the effort, but in recent weeks Japan has seized one North Korean cargo ship and prevented another from docking.

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Embattled President Charles Taylor of Liberia committed to giving up power as one of the terms of a new cease-fire with rebel forces trying to oust him from office, reports said. Full details of their accord had yet to be revealed as the Monitor went to press. But analysts said it opens the door to the deployment of peacekeepers and negotiations on ending almost 14 years of civil war. Recent clashes have driven tens of thousands of people from their homes. Taylor previously insisted on keeping power until his term expires in January.

Turnout at the polls was described as "acceptable" by the Interior Ministry of Jordan in the kingdom's first election since King Abdullah dissolved parliament two years ago. But by midday fewer than 30 percent of voters had cast ballots nationally. More than 700 candidates were competing for the 110 seats in the lower house. Abdullah has postponed the vote several times because of violence across the border in the West Bank, but is hoping that holding it now will enhance his credentials as a democrat in the changing Middle East.

Police were warning of criminal charges for anyone caught with a stolen copy of the fifth book in the Harry Potter series after almost 7,700 disappeared from a warehouse in northern England. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is due for release Saturday. A printing plant worker already has been arrested for offering details of the carefully guarded story to the news media for cash.


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