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Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accused UN weapons inspectors of spying, dismissed US threats as "the hiss of snakes and bark of dogs," and said his country is prepared for war. His speech, televised as part of Army Day celebrations, marked Hussein's first public criticism of the inspectors since they resumed work in November. In response, a UN spokeswoman said that if they are gathering intelligence, "it's intelligence for the United Nations."

Israel responded to two suicide bombings in Tel Aviv by rocketing suspected weapons workshops in Gaza City, blocking Palestinian officials from attending conferences in London and in the West Bank, and closing three Palestinian universities. The explosions killed 23 people in addition to the bombers and wounded more than 100 others. Several Palestinian militant groups claimed responsibility. Analysts said the attacks, the deadliest since March 2001, were likely to boost strong support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud government in Jan. 28 elections.

Embattled Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez vowed "justice" for two supporters killed during a political rally in Caracas Friday. Chávez blamed leaders of a month-old strike by oil workers and opposition media outlets for the violence that left another 78 people injured. Opposition organizers accused Chávez supporters of starting the melee. The oil strike has cost the government billions and helped to push oil prices above $30 a barrel on international markets, although Chávez claimed exports are back to half the country's normal level. Venezuela is a major supplier to the US.

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Three men detained in Hong Kong agreed to extradition to the US, where they face terrorism and drug-related charges. The suspects, two Pakistani nationals and an American born in India, were arrested in September in an FBI sting. They allegedly tried to trade drugs for four missile launchers, which they planned to sell to Al Qaeda. Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa must approve the transfer, expected to take place in the next few weeks.

More than 210,000 candidates have registered for local council elections in Iran next month, the official IRNA news agency reported. Unlike previous polls, candidates who favor the reforms of President Mohammad Khatami will be allowed to run, setting the stage for a test of his popular support. Men and women as young as 15 are eligible to vote and young Iranians are among Khatami's main backers.

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