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Once again, radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is ready to negotiate an end to his violent challenge to Iraq's interim government, aides said. Previous talks, however, have collapsed or the youthful leader has reneged on deals to which he committed himself. The latest concession came as Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Sadr and his fighters holed up in Najaf's sprawling Imam Ali Mosque "have hours to surrender" to government troops deployed outside and backed by US forces. Meanwhile, the interim government's environment and education ministers escaped unhurt in almost simultaneous bomb attacks en route to work in Baghdad. Five of their bodyguards were killed, however, and two others were wounded. Terrorist leader Abu Muisab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group claimed responsibility for one of the attacks.

"Nuclear defense equipment" has been produced by Iran as a safeguard against any attempt to attack the power plants it is building or other facilities in its program, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said. But he would not elaborate. Senior government officials also repeated a warning issued last week that Iran would retaliate if Israel tried to bomb the facilities as it did Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, adding: "They know what is our capability." Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the US, too, is "looking for excuses" to act against Iran's facilities.

A nationwide strike in Bangla-desh to protest growing political violence quickly turned violent itself, and at least 80 people were hurt in clashes with police. Most of the trouble came when supporters of the opposition Awami League ransacked railway stations and ripped up sections of track to keep trains from running. Fifty demonstrators were arrested in the capital, Dhaka, alone. The strike, originally scheduled for two days, will end at noon Wednesday, organizers said, to accommodate the funeral of the Awami League's women's wing leader. Her death Tuesday brought to 20 the number of people killed last weekend in a grenade attack on the league's Dhaka headquarters.

In response to what they called "popular appeals," communist rebels in Nepal promised to suspend their siege of the capital for a month, beginning Wednesday. The move followed a declaration by Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary that the rebels were preparing to return to negotiations with his government because, "Peace is a must for them [and] peace is a must for us." Earlier in the day, however, the rebels attacked an Army patrol trying to reopen a highway between the capital, Kathmandu, and Tibet, killing four soldiers. Some food prices in the city have quadrupled since the siege began, and several gas stations have run out of fuel.

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