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Visiting the scene of a suicide bombing in southern Iraq that killed 31 people, 18 of them Italians, Italy's Defense Minister Antonio Martino said his country would not be intimidated by the "terrible experience," which he likened to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Wednesday's blast outside an Italian paramilitary base in Nasiriyah was the single deadliest against the US-led coalition occupying Iraq. US forces, meanwhile, killed at least two suspected insurgents during raids in the capital, Baghdad, and destroyed an abandoned factory allegedly used to plan attacks. In light of the deteriorating security situation, Japan said it would delay a planned troop deployment to Iraq until sometime next year, while South Korea indicated it would send no more than 3,000 soldiers, far short of the 10,000 the Bush administration requested.

In a potential boost for the stalled road map to peace, Israeli and Palestinian officials said they expect their respective leaders to meet soon, following the confirmation of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia's new cabinet Wednesday. Israel's foreign minister told Army Radio a summit could occur within 10 days, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was prepared to make "painful compromises for the sake of real peace" - though not on security. Qureia, for his part, said he's ready for talks with Sharon but wants a "well prepared" agenda.

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Burundi's President Domitien Ndayizeye will sign a peace deal with a main rebel group at a summit of regional leaders in neighboring Tanzania this weekend, a government spokesman said. The accord is designed to end a decade of fighting between the Forces for the Defense of Democracy and the government, in an ethnic conflict that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than 1 million in the central African nation. A second rebel group remains outside the peace process.

A British judge rejected Russia's request to extradite a Chechen rebel leader, terming the case politically motivated. Judge Timothy Workman also said there is "substantial risk" that Akhmed Zakayev would be tortured if turned over to authorities in Moscow, where he is wanted for mass murder, kidnapping, and other charges. Zakayev was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport in December. The office of Russia's prosecutor general said the decision reflects "double standards" on terrorists.

While reaffirming a commitment to a cease-fire, Tamil rebel leader S.P. Thamilselvan said his group won't return to peace talks until Sri Lanka's president and prime minister resolve a power struggle. Thamilselvan spoke in the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi with Norwegian mediators, who were due to meet later with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.


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