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Dismissing US criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (above) said his government's counterattacks against terrorism are a "right of self-defense." In Washington, Secretary of State Powell told a congressional hearing Wednesday that Sharon "has to take a hard look at his policies." Israeli forces reoccupied two Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and the nearby town of Tulkarem, killing six people. But the Palestinian leadership warned of "a total explosion" in the region, and in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem another suicide bomber killed himself and wounded nine others. A second bomb-carrying Palestinian was thwarted as he tried to enter a Jerusalem cafe. (Stories, pages 1, 6; editorial, page 10.)

Militant Palestinian groups are working secretly to put together an alternative organization to Yasser Arafat, The Washington Times reported. Citing an Arab source and Saudi newspaper accounts, the Times said the likely participants in the effort include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others who are motivated by concern that Arafat and his Palestinian Authority gradually are collapsing under Israeli pressure.

In a warning sounded at one of his final campaign rallies, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he'd seek retribution against his challenger after this weekend's election. Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has been accused of treason in connection with a secretly recorded videotape that purports to show him discussing a plot to assassinate Mugabe. Meanwhile, a leading newspaper reported that the Army had been placed on high alert, with all leaves canceled, in anticipation of trouble at the polls tomorrow and Sunday. (Stories, pages 1, 8.)

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The first high-level discussions between Iraq's government and the UN in a year were to focus on the return of weapons inspectors. But no breakthrough was expected, and Iraq's ambassador denied that the "state of dialogue" had anything to do with President Bush's threat to expand the US war on terrorism to Iraqi soil.

A low voter turnout appeared to be tilting Wednesday's referendum on tightening the Republic of Ireland's abortion laws toward defeat. Based on early returns, state-owned television reported the "no" vote in heavily populated Dublin and its surrounding area was running as high as 70 percent. Only in rural western counties was the "yes" vote strong. The measure would clarify the medical conditions under which women may terminate pregnancies but otherwise would keep them illegal.

More than 90 percent of the armed forces in Madagascar, led by 20 Army generals, pledged their allegiance to the "parallel government" set up by self-proclaimed president Marc Ravalomanana, reports said.

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