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In a new act of defiance over their nation's nuclear ambitions, Iranian delegates failed to show up Thursday for a promised meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The session was called so that the Iranians could explain plans for the resumption of uranium enrichment. A day earlier, the Iranians failed to meet a request by IAEA chief Mohamad ElBaradei to provide the clarification, and, in a speech, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted his government would "defend the right to nuclear research and technology" and would not be deterred by warnings from Western nations.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas joined other world leaders in expressing concern over the physical condition of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Spokesmen for radical groups, however, called the situation "a gift from God" and in refugee camps Palestinian youths passed out candy and flowers in open delight. A senior Hamas leader said he saw no reason for the matter to cause the postponement of the Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary election. But the Palestinian Election Commission resigned en masse because of an internal dispute, although it later said it would reconsider.

A ship carrying the final 2,150 Indonesian police deployed in Aceh Province pulled out of port Thursday, fulfilling the terms of the Indonesian government's peace accord with separatist rebels there. The accord, however, allows thousands of other security forces to remain in the volatile province, and before the rebels can participate in local elections this spring a new law must be passed by parliament in Jakarta. Aceh has been mired in a 29-year civil war, but peace efforts finally succeeded in the wake of the devastating 2004 tsunami, which killed 156,000 people and left a half-million others homeless.

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