New doubt hung over the transitional government that's about to assume power in Iraq as its two Kurdish political parties conferred on whether to participate after all. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party had sought UN Security Council endorsement of the interim Constitution, which spells out the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. But the council, in unanimously approving a new resolution on Iraq's future Tuesday, decided against such an endorsement, reportedly under pressure from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation's most influential Shiite cleric. Kurds represent about 15 percent of Iraq's population. Other than foreign minister, they have been designated only for minor cabinet posts in the transitional government.
Opponents of leftist President Hugo Chávez won a major victory in Venezuela when the nation's elections council ruled that enough valid signatures had been gathered on petitions calling for a referendum on his controversial rule. The panel scheduled the vote for Aug. 15. But analysts said its outcome is far from certain, although a new presidential election may be held within 30 days if Chávez loses. For that to happen, more than 3.7 million Venezuelans must vote to recall him, and The Miami Herald reported that all ballots will be tallied only on untried, touch-screen machines supplied by a company in which Chávez's government has a financial stake.
Dissident soldiers pulled off their uniforms and abandoned the strategic eastern Congo city of Bukavu without a fight to advancing government forces Wednesday. But it was not immediately clear whether the week-old challenge to the transitional government of President Joseph Kabila was over. One of the insurgent leaders demanded negotiations with the government and threatened to retake Bukavu if he was refused.
Enough chemicals to produce more than a half-billion dollars worth of illegal methamphetamine were seized in a police raid on the outskirts of Fiji's capital, Suva. The raid, believed to be the largest of its type in Southern Hemisphere history, also netted seven suspects, four of them Asians. Police said the laboratory had been exporting to the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Under its nickname, "ice," the drug is a favorite of young party-goers.