Members of the Hamas-led Palestinian government officially began their duties Thursday. But exiled leader Khaled Meshaal rejected warnings by the US, Russia, the UN, and the European Union that "direct assistance" would be cut off unless Hamas renounces violence against Israel and recognizes the Jewish state. He said Hamas's stated position vis-á-vis Israel had not changed. In another gesture of defiance, Interior Minister Said Siyam said the Hamas government would not arrest Palestinian militants - an Israeli condition for resuming peace negotiations.
Negotiations are expected to extend well into next week in Israel on formation of a new coalition government, with Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert vowing to keep the crucial post of finance minister for his Kadima Party. The opposition Labor Party has demanded the job for its leader, Amir Peretz, although a spokeswoman declined to say the party would refuse to join a coalition if it was withheld. Because Kadima won just 28 seats in parliament, it must align with at least three other parties to form a majority. Olmert has said he is open to any other parties joining his government, but that they must accept his plan to shrink Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The fate of a hotly contested labor law - and perhaps the political future of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin - hung in the balance Thursday as the people of France awaited a ruling on the measure by their Constitutional Court. Should the justices strike down the law, "Everyone will go 'phew,'" a leading political analyst said. But if it is upheld, President Jacques Chirac is expected to sign it as soon as Friday. Either way, he was preparing to address the nation on the matter. As for de Villepin, a ruling that the measure violates labor law could sink his presidential hopes next year, the analysts said. Meanwhile, students were blocking commuter trains and major highways in another day of protests.
Police and paramilitary re-inforcements were rushed to the city of Diyarbakir as the worst violence in Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey in decades was in its third straight day. The trouble stemmed from the funerals for 14 Kurdish rebels who were killed last weekend by security forces, as mourners en route to a cemetary for their burial hurled rocks at a police station. It also spread to nearby Batman, where protesters smashed the windows of banks and government offices and set up burning barricades in the streets. Between the two cities, at least three people have died, 250 others have been hurt, and police had arrested 200 rioters, reports said.
Hopes that this weekend's election in Thailand would bring to a halt the protests against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were dashed by leaders of the movement, who called for another massive demonstration next Friday. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party appears assured of victory in the election Sunday, since the voting is being boycotted by the three main opposition parties. The protesters surrounded the offices of the Election Commission in Bangkok Thursday to demand that Thaksin's candidacy be disqualified on grounds of alleged fraud and abuse of power, but they were denied a meeting with its chairman. Thaksin called the election three years early to try to reaffirm his mandate and sap the momentum of those seeking to force his resignation.
Cyclone Glenda was lashing the coast of northwestern Australia with sustained winds of 100 m.p.h. Thursday, but it apparently spared the region's largest community. Reports said it toppled trees and power lines and flooded roads, but authorities cautioned that it was too soon to tell how much other damage was occurring. Hundreds of people had heeded warnings and left for safer locations, and the region's vital oil, gas, and mining industries all shut down their operations. Glenda was the second destructive cyclone to make landfall in Australia in 10 days.