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Thousands of volunteer "human shields" flocked to the Iraqi city of Najaf, vowing to serve as deterrents against an assault on Shiite Muslim shrines by US forces - if necessary by lying in front of tanks. But fighting there continued Monday, and Iraqis meeting to choose an interim parliament sent a delegation to demand that Mehdi militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdraw from the shrines, surrender their weapons, and become a political party. By contrast, Sadr has insisted that the US leave Najaf and that his loyalists be granted amnesty in return for giving up their two-week rebellion.

Venezuela appeared almost completely polarized after controversial President Hugo Chávez claimed victory in the hard-fought referendum on his rule. With the official tally all but complete from Sunday's balloting, the National Electoral Council said Chávez had a 58 percent to 42 percent lead over the forces seeking to recall him and force a new election for a successor. But angry Chávez opponents rejected the results, calling the outcome "a gigantic fraud" and demanding a recount.

Declaring victory in his country's crackdown against terrorism, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said security forces there are hunting the last remaining militants. The de facto ruler told interviewers: "We know [they] are a group of our sons who went astray. We know how to ... bring them back to the right path." Saudi Arabia has experienced a wave of suicide bombings, kidnappings, and other forms of terrorism in the past 15 months that mostly have targeted foreigners. An amnesty offered to militants in June attracted only a handful of takers, none of them believed to be hard-core.

It will be "impossible" for North Korea to attend meetings of the working group that sets the agenda for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program, the foreign ministry in Pyongyang announced. The working group had been expected to meet last week, but didn't. A fourth round of six-nation talks is planned by the end of next month. A North Korean statement said the US had "destroyed the foundation" for the working group meetings, in part because it is "in actuality not interested in making the dialogue fruitful."

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