World

Without providing details - for security reasons - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would send a mission to Iraq to explore the feasibility of an election to choose the nation's new government. The announcement was cheered by leading Iraqis, who said they want the UN to play an expanded role in rebuilding their country even though Annan pulled its mission out last August after a series of terrorist attacks on its facilities. The US opposes elections, preferring that regional councils choose the government. But it acknowledges the influence of the Shiite Muslim cleric who has demanded such a vote.

A dispute erupted between Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Jewish leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over claims that he'd informed them of a plan to evacuate at least seven settlements to reduce friction with the Palestinians. The settlements, while authorized, are isolated and frequent targets of Palestinian militants. Israel has never dismantled "veteran" settlements, and analysts said such a plan would be the strongest sign yet that Sharon intends to move unilaterally toward accommodation with the Palestinians. Sharon's office quickly denied the claim.

Humiliating defeat appeared unlikely after all for British Prime Minister Tony Blair after days of uncertainty that his leadership could survive its biggest challenge yet. Blair won a convert from his own Labour Party for a critical vote on his plan to charge university students increased tuition, and analysts said other lawmakers were almost certain to follow. Meanwhile, Britons awaited a potentially explosive report Tuesday into the suicide of a weapons expert who was the lone source for a BBC report questioning the government's handling of military intelligence on Iraq.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for a terrorist bomb explosion in Afghanistan that killed the attacker as well as a Canadian NATO soldier and a civilian and wounded 11 others. All were traveling in a convoy of jeeps in Kabul, the capital, when the incident occurred. It came one day after President Hamid Karzai signed the nation's new Constitution into law.

UN health officials appealed for urgent international funding and expertise to help stop the spread of "bird flu" after Thailand reported its second death from the virus in two days, and China and Laos became the latest nations to confirm that it had been detected there. Adequate stocks of vaccine to inoculate humans could take more than six months to produce, the World Health Organization said.

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