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The Taliban regime appeared on the brink of disintegration in Afghanistan, with its troops fleeing two more key cities, pursued by US warplanes. Kandahar, their base, was said to be "in complete chaos," while community elders in Jalalabad granted the Taliban safe passage out in return for control of the city. Meanwhile, local tribes were reported to be challenging other Taliban forces in the ethnic Pashtun highlands of the country's south and east. Still, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld cautioned that senior Taliban leaders were hiding in places where they have yet to be located. (Stories, pages 1, 8.)

Afghanistan's exiled king was to deliver an appeal to the beleaguered country to establish a democratic government, offering himself as unifying figure "not today, nor tomorrow - but soon." Meanwhile, special US envoy James Dobbins was expected in neighboring Pakistan for meetings on a broad-based coalition government, although ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbbani was to declare himself the leader of all territory now under control of the Northern Alliance. (Opinion, page 21.)

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Next month's scheduled reunion of Korean families divided by the peninsula's war appeared likely to be the first casualty after delegates from the two governments failed in marathon meetings to agree on such issues as a common approach to terrorism. No new date was set for a resumption of dialogue. The North angrily objected to a unilateral security alert in South Korea following the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

Twenty-three men were found guilty of "practicing immorality" in Egypt's high-profile homosexuality trial. They drew sentences ranging from one to five years, which can be overturned only by President Hosni Mubarak. Although 29 other defendants were acquitted by the state security court, the trial and verdicts drew condemnation by international rights groups. The prosecution stemmed from a police raid in May on a Nile River nightclub. Homosexuality is considered a sin in Egypt's conservative Islamic society. Above, police rush the hooded defendants into court in Cairo.

Another cut in crude oil production of at least 1 million barrels a day by OPEC was hinging on nonmember Russia's cooperation as the Monitor went to press. But reports from Vienna, where the cartel was meeting in special session, said the reduction likely would be deferred unless Russian producers agreed to "a sensible figure." Russia, a leading independent exporter, was offering a token 30,000-barrel-a-day cut, an amount OPEC leaders called "disappointing." Norway and Mexico, two other major independents, were showing no signs of willingness to scale back production. OPEC, which already has cut production four times this year, wants to shore up crude prices, which fluctuate at or near a two-year low.

"Definitely the largest" earthquake in decades struck sparsely populated northwestern China, seismologists said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the 8.1-magnitude temblor, although it was felt hundreds of miles away in neighboring provinces.