World

Without offering details, Iraq's top Shiite cleric announced a plan to restore peace to the "burning city" of Najaf. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned from medical treatment in London and called on "all believers" to volunteer for a march Thursday to the holy city, where fighters loyal to youthful radical Moqtada al-Sadr have been defying Iraqi and US troops and the interim government from the sacred Imam Ali Mosque for three weeks. But Sadr has urged his own followers to go to Najaf, setting up a potential showdown of uncertain outcome. Some of Sadr's aides, however, said his Mahdi militia would stop fighting in honor of Sistani's return.

Terrorist acts were ruled out by Russia's Federal Security Service as being the cause of two commercial jet crashes that killed all 89 people aboard. The planes, which did not belong to the same airline and had left Moscow for different destinations, nevertheless went down three minutes apart. One of the carriers said its pilots had set off a hijack alarm just before the plane disappeared from radar screens. The incidents came five days before Sunday's scheduled presidential election in Chechnya, which separatist rebels have threatened to disrupt with violence.

Unidentified gunmen ambushed a convoy in the Gaza Strip, seriously wounding its deputy Palestinian intelligence chief and killing two bodyguards. The apparent target, Tareq Abu Rajab, is a longtime ally of Yasser Arafat, and analysts suggested that the incident was linked to the growing criticism of Arafat's leadership among fellow Palestinians and to the power struggle among rival factions in Gaza as Israel pursues plans to withdraw from the strip next year.

With its leader on trial for treason, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe announced it will boycott all future elections. The party demanded that President Robert Mugabe's government implement reforms that will make voting "transparent and fair," repeal new laws governing news coverage and security that it considers repressive, and put an end to political violence. MDC members of City Council in Harare, the capital, also quit.

An estimated 320,000 people were evacuated from China's coastal Fujian and Zhejiang provinces as typhoon Aere blew ashore with winds of 108 m.p.h. The same storm was blamed for a landslide that buried a village in northern Taiwan, taking an unknown toll.

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