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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn and Kristen Broman-Worthington / February 4, 2004



British Prime Minister Tony Blair bowed to growing pressure and announced an official inquiry into the quality of his government's intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs. But the probe will not consider his "political decision to go to war" beside the US last year. In Washington, President Bush said Monday he'll appoint a panel for a similar investigation. Britain's inquiry will issue its findings by this coming summer, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament. Blair's commitment of British troops to the war remains widely unpopular at home, especially since no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq.

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The political crisis in Iran appeared to be nearing a head, with President Mohamad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei due to meet on whether the Feb. 20 national election should be held. Khatami's Cabinet voted unanimously Monday to delay the balloting on grounds that it wouldn't be fair because of the disqualification of thousands of candidates by the Guardian Council. The largest reform party, headed by the president's brother, also has vowed to boycott the election. But Khamenei, who has the final say in matters of state, "insists there shouldn't be any delay" in the election, informed sources said.

An urgent conference of health, food, and veterinary experts opened in Rome to consider approaches to the bird flu sweeping Asia. The experts are especially concerned about possible mutation of the virus into a form easily transmittable among humans. Meanwhile, Thailand reported another death from bird flu - the 13th human fatality to date - and Indonesia and China advised that the same strain has spread to their countries. Above, health authorities in Vietnam throw bags of dead chickens and disinfectant into a burial site.

The next round of negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program will open Feb. 25 in China, the Beijing and Pyongyang governments confirmed. But some participants were quick to question how much the talks can accomplish. A senior Russian official noted that a "great" difference remains between the North Korean and US positions on nuclear disarmament, and a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry said the host government only hopes that all sides will "exert sincerity and flexibility." The first round of talks ended inconclusively after three days last August in Beijing.

A car exploded in a southern Russian city near Chechnya, killing at least one person, wounding others, and causing heavy property damage, first reports said. Vladikavkaz, the scene of the blast and capital of North Ossetia Province, has experienced repeated terrorist incidents, some of them related to the four-year-old war for separatism in Chechnya.

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