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The last legal obstacle to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan from the Gaza Strip was removed by the Israeli Supreme Court, which rejected challenges made on the grounds that it would violate settlers' human rights. The justices, however, did uphold technical challenges dealing with financial compensation for the settlers who are to be uprooted in August. Sharon already has parliament's OK for the pullout, leaving opponents with only the hope that public opinion can derail it.

Sunni Arabs in Iraq will be given a greater role in drafting the new constitution, the Shiite-led government said. But the increase in Sunni ranks on the constitutional committee from two members to 15 - a number equal to Kurdish representation - still falls short of the 27 seats demanded by the alliance of Sunni political parties. The alliance has threatened to boycott the constitutional process unless its demand is met. Sunni Arabs are a minority in Iraq and most Sunnis did not vote in the Jan. 30 national election. But their approval is needed for the charter to take effect.

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Official news media and bloggers in Iran were offering vastly different versions of the aftermath of the national soccer team's victory earlier this week over Bahrain, qualifying it for the World Cup finals. Tehran's police chief told journalists the public celebrations were joyous, adding: "We have not witnessed anyone breaking the law." But Regime Change Iran and other blogs reported violent fighting between antigovernment protesters and security forces in at least four cities, and a Reuters correspondent said he saw government vigilantes beating demonstrators with nightsticks in Tehran for chanting slogans against the ruling clerics. Iran is scheduled to hold a presidential election next Friday, but students and other antigovernment forces have called for a boycott.

A two-day general strike by opponents of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was off to a weak start as most people appeared to be heeding warnings against participating. Meanwhile, Mugabe opened a new session of parliament, defending his government's razing of shantytowns, its crackdown on black-market traders, and other measures he says are necessary to further empower the black majority. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which called for the strike, said the crackdowns are aimed at punishing its supporters among the urban poor by forcing them back into rural areas dominated by Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party.


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