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In a published decree, Serbia's government said Monday it will hold local elections in Kosovo next month despite the UN's insistence that it alone has the authority to organize such voting there. The government said the May 11 elections will be held in 16 communities where ethnic Serbs live, among them the capital, Pristina. The UN and 36 national governments have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence. But Serbia considers the province the cradle of its civilization.

Exit polls after two days of voting for a new government in Italy showed conservative ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's forces with leads in both houses of parliament. But the margins were narrow, and political analysts cautioned that such polls often have proved unreliable. As recently as two years ago, they failed to predict accurately the final outcome of legislative voting. Berlusconi, bidding for a third stint as head of government, is opposed by leftist former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni.

Beginning three weeks before the Olympic Summer Games, China's government will ban all forms of construction in Beijing, it said Monday. The order is aimed at clearing the city's air of pollution. China promised good air quality for the games when it bid for them in 2001 but has had little evident success so far in meeting that goal. Olympics officials have warned that some events will be postponed if pollution levels are excessive.

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