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Iran's government said Tuesday it holds the US responsible for the kidnapping in Baghdad of a senior diplomat from its embassy and alleged that the captors had driven American vehicles. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the incident, which took place last Sunday. The captors reportedly were dressed in the uniforms of an Iraqi Army unit that regularly works closely with American troops. US military spokesmen said Americans were not involved in the incident. It came as Maliki complained of the slow start to preparations for his planned security crackdown in Baghdad and urged his generals to finish them "quickly ... so that we don't disappoint people."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet jointly with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits the Middle East the week of Feb. 19, a Jerusalem newspaper reported Tuesday. The aim of the talks is to push the parties back into peace negotiations, the report said.

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To the fury of Palestinians, archaeologists in Jerusalem began a dig Tuesday near the most-disputed religious site in the Middle East. Israel plans to build a new pedestrian ramp to what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary. The dig is aimed at ensuring that the construction does not come at the expense of any ancient artifacts.

Leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the US were in their first dispute since his return to office last month. Ortega has refused a Bush administration demand that he resume a program, begun by his predecessor, of destroying thousands of antiaircraft missiles given to his regime in the 1980s by the Soviet Union. He said Nicaragua needs the weapons for defense against neighbors with stronger air power. US officials say they worry that the shoulder-fired missiles could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Heavy rains returned to badly flooded Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday night, sending water back into areas where it had been receding. Authorities raised the casualty count to 44 deaths and estimated the cost of the flooding so far at $452 million, "mostly due to an inactive economy and closure of offices and factories."

White farmers in Zimbabwe learned that their apparent reprieve may not apply after all. The government said weeks ago that although the deadline for eviction was last Saturday, the farmers could stay on until crops now in the ground are harvested. That would have postponed the seizure of their land until late August. But Security Minister Didymus Mutasa was quoted Tuesday as saying police would be "unleashed" on those who hadn't vacated and that they "will be dealt with severely." Farm-union officials, who'd advised their members not to leave, said there were no reports of arrests yet but they were bracing for the worst.

Twenty-three members of the ruling party in South Korea defected from its ranks Tuesday, saying they need to distance themselves from President Roh Moo Hyun if they're to be competitive in the national election scheduled for December. Roh's Uri Party, which had the most seats in parliament, fell behind the opposition Grand National Party after the move. Roh, whose public approval ratings are low, had offered to quit the party himself if that would help it remain cohesive.

Two more people were hurt when an apparent letter bomb exploded in a business office in southern England, the second such incident in two days. Investigators said they couldn't yet tell whether the latest incident was linked to the first explosion, which also happened in a business office. That attack, in London, injured an employee of a company that collects fees for the city's traffic-control program and for the nation's television set licenses.


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