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An increasingly confident United Iraqi Alliance, rolling up an ever-larger lead in votes from the Jan. 30 election, served notice that it wants the post of prime minister in the new government - a claim that, if honored, apparently would result in the ouster of US-backed Iyad Allawi even as a compromise choice. With the vote-count about 35 percent complete, the alliance of religious Shiites held roughly a 66 percent to 18 percent margin over Allawi's secular Shiites. Meanwhile, in a move heavy with symbolism, a leading Sunni Muslim called from a mosque after Friday prayers for his followers to "participate in the next elections." Most Sunnis boycotted the January vote.

The atmosphere for Tuesday's historic summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas eased amid agreement that the two sides would determine jointly how many Palestinians are to be freed from jail and under what conditions. A senior Israeli leader was quoted as saying such releases are inevitable, over and above the 900 Palestinians already slated to be freed. The more who are let go, the stronger Abbas's hand becomes in attempting to negotiate a formal end to violence against Israelis, analysts said.

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"To be polite," the prime minister of Thailand pledged to hold talks with his coalition partner about the shape of a new four-year term, even though he appeared to have won a massive victory in Sunday's national election. Thaksin Shinawatra's adept handling of the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster was credited with helping to propel his win by what he called "more than enough to establish a one-party government."

A chorus of protest greeted the installation of a military government in Togo within hours of President Gnassingbe Eyadema's death Saturday. Army commanders declared his son, Faure Gnassingbe (above), the new leader, ignoring the Constitution, which calls for power to go to the Speaker of the National Assembly for 60 days while an election is organized. The elder Eyadema had ruled for 38 years - longer than any other African leader.

Despite protests over the open-ended commitment of Danish troops to the war in Iraq, voters are considered likely to give Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his allies in parliament an easy victory Tuesday. Analysts said the election, nine months earlier than is necessary, coincides with a record-low approval rating for the opposition Social Democrats in public opinion polls.


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