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Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that he and US officials had met with seven Sunni resistance groups and "I believe a deal could be reached" with them. He said the groups did not include "the Saddamists and Zarqawi types," a reference to loyalists of the ousted Iraqi dictator and to foreign terrorists allied with Al Qaeda. Talabani did not mention the exact location or the dates of the meetings. Meanwhile, members of parliament were summoned to a meeting Wednesday, although Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki is not expected to present his nominees for cabinet posts at that time.

In another day of anxiety over the prospect of civil war, Tamil separatist rebels shelled an Army outpost in Sri Lanka and overran the encampments of a group accused of paramilitary activities with the government's support. At least 15 people were killed in the latter clash, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a posting on their website. The military denied providing support for the target of the LTTE raid. Meanwhile, the government rejected as "outrageous" an accusation by the European-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that its forces "may have" engaged in "extra- judicial killings" of Tamil noncombatants. The mission also accused the rebels of violating the 2004 cease-fire.

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Cementing their ties with the new leftist president of Bolivia, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Vene-zuelan leader Hugo Chávez joined him in signing an updated Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. The socialist trade agreement is aimed at countering US influence in Latin America. It calls for Venezuela and Cuba to buy all the soybeans Bolivia produces and to provide gasoline, medical care, and literacy and development projects in return. The US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas stalled last year, but the Bush administration has since signed individual deals with nine governments in the region.

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister G.P. Koirala opened Sunday's session of Parliament in Nepal by extending to the communist rebel movement an offer "to come for [peace] talks immediately." The invitation followed a release by the rebels of eight of 11 government soldiers who'd been taken hostage last week despite a unilateral three-month cease-fire declaration. Members of Parliament also did the bidding of the rebels by making the abolition of the monarchy one of their first priorities. Reports said Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan kingdom, finally appeared back to normal over the weekend following a general strike and days of often-violent protests demanding that King Gyanendra restore democracy.

Another deadline appeared certain to pass without the arrest of former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, one of the two most-wanted fugitives sought by the UN war crimes tribunal for the Balkans. The government of Serbia-Montenegro had until Sunday night to hand Mladic over to the tribunal or risk suspension of its preliminary negotiations to join the European Union. But there were no signs that Mladich, who is under indictment for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim males at Srebrenica in 1995, was about to be delivered by Serbian authorities. A government spokesman pledged "continued cooperation" with the EU and the tribunal and said he hoped any suspension would be temporary.

At least 27 men were confirmed dead and five others remained missing after an explosion Saturday afternoon in a coal mine in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province. The Xinhua news agency reported that seven miners escaped. The mine was licensed and operating legally, but the owner and managers were placed "under watch" and their records were seized following the blast. Its annual production puts it on the borderline of mines the Chinese government has vowed to close for safety reasons by the end of next year.


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