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The first volunteers who've said they will act as human shields against a US-led attack are arriving in Iraq, a senior member of the ruling party said. He said the volunteers, both Arabs and Europeans, "will be distributed to vital and strategic installations." Meanwhile, UN nuclear experts reported conducting the first "private" interviews with Iraqis who have "critical information" about their government's weapons program. Mohamad ElBaradei of the Inter- national Atomic Energy Agency said the interviews were taking place inside Iraq, although "practical arrangements to take people out of Iraq" also were being pursued. .

Four or five bombs could be made within months from irradiated fuel rods at a nuclear power plant being reactivated by North Korea, analysts said. But the Pyongyang government insisted again that concerns over its nuclear program could be settled if the US would agree to its demand for a nonaggression treaty. It insists the plant is being reactivated to produce electricity. But the State Department said the fuel rods in the plant "have no relevance" for the generation of power and called on the North not to restart the facility.

Those who seek political reform in Iran will be "demolished" if they don't end their efforts to concentrate more power in the office of the president, a prominent hard-line Muslim cleric said. A government newspaper quoted him as saying two measures pushed by reformers in parliament would bring "chaos" to Iran. One, already passed, would strip the hard-line clerics of the power to disqualify candidates for political office. The other would allow the president to check the power of the unelected courts and police. A reformist spokesman called the latest instance of increasingly tough rhetoric from the clerics a sign that "suppression is the last weapon they have."

Antigovernment protesters were preparing "to spend Christmas in the streets" of Venezuela's capital as the nationwide general strike entered its third week. President Hugo Chávez, whom the protesters seek to topple, said Sunday he'll send the military to distribute corn meal, a staple of the Christmas diet but scarce because of the strike, around the nation. Meanwhile, international experts said they doubted the effectiveness of Chávez's move to use the military to load oil for export because production remains idle.

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