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The first consultation between the UN mission on elections in Iraq and the interim Governing Council lasted two hours Sunday, with its members pledging to do "everything possible" to help the war-torn nation "regain independence and sovereignty." The visitors, who will be in Iraq for about 10 days, sampling opinion about the feasibility for direct voting for its first parliament, are expected next to call on Shiite Muslim leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose demand for an election has clouded the US goal of transferring full power to Iraqis by July 1.

Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander and three other Palestinian militants in separate Gaza Strip attacks. Sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he also plans to shorten the route of the West Bank barrier between Israel and the Palestinians, cutting out most of the loops around Jewish settlements - an apparent bid to win US support for the controversial project. Meanwhile, 400 members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement quit in protest at what they called bad leadership and corruption.

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"Calmly and systematically," Russian security forces will destroy the Chechen separatists blamed for the bomb attack on Moscow's subway, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said. The rush-hour blast Friday killed 39 people and wounded more than 100 others, many of them seriously. Chechen leaders have denied any involvement in the attack.

Backing down from his earlier position, Iran's president said next week's election for a new parliament would be held as scheduled. But Mohamad Khatami said the voting wouldn't be fair, since thousands of so-called reform candidates remain disqualified on grounds that they're insufficiently loyal to Islam. He'd asked Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, for a postponement, but was refused.

An address to the nation is expected Monday by Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumara-tunga to answer critics of her announcement of an early election to resolve her bitter feud with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. She dissolved Parliament Saturday and set the vote for April 2, three years before it would be due. Critics say the move wasn't necessary and could derail Wickremesinghe's efforts to forge a peace with the island's Tamil separatists.

Police retreated from Haiti's fourth-largest city after failing to quell an antigovernment riot that littered the streets with the remains of at least nine people. Unconfirmed reports said the violence in Gonaives had spread to another town, with two more people dead and police retreating there as well. Above, some Gonaives protesters overturn a police vehicle.


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