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The chief negotiator for the volatile city of Fallujah was released from US and Iraqi custody but refused to pursue further talks in protest against his detention. Sheikh Khaled al-Jumeili was arrested Friday after negotiations broke down with the interim government in Baghdad over the latter's demand for the handover of terrorist leader Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. Zarqawi is believed to be using Fallujah as a sanctuary from which to launch car-bomb attacks and ambushes against police, soldiers, and Americans. The US military accuses Jumeili of representing the terrorists.

Saying it had the understanding of "the dignified brothers in Al Qaeda," Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad organization pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Some terrorism analysts have suggested that the two organizations are rivals and that Zarqawi and bin Laden seek to outdo each other in warring against Western interests. But the statement said the pledge came after eight months of contacts.

The give-and-take between Western governments and Iran over the latter's nuclear ambitions took a new turn, with the latter offering a temporary suspension of its uranium- enrichment program, subject to negotiation. Not negotiable, however, is "our legitimate right" to enrichment, a senior leader said. He said Iran had done all it could to remove doubts about its nuclear program, which the US argues includes a secret weapons component. Britain, France, and Germany reportedly are preparing to offer the Tehran government economic incentives to abandon the enrichment program, a necessary process in producing weapons-grade fuel.

Leaving a tension-filled meeting with settlers, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that nothing would stop him from going ahead with his plan for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank. He is expected to call for a vote on the controversial proposal in parliament next Monday. The settlers want a national referendum on the issue. One of their spokesmen complained after the meeting that Sharon "runs roughshod over everyone." But the latest public opinion polls show two-thirds support for the pullout.

By an overwhelming margin, voters in the former Soviet republic of Belarus approved a referendum that proposed scrapping term limits for the office of president, the Elections Commission said. It put the "yes" vote at 77 percent. The measure gives hard-line leader Alexander Lukashenko, who's been in power since 1994 and is often called "Europe's last dictator," a clear path to seek reelection when his current term expires in 2006. Opponents claimed the vote was rigged, citing one exit poll that estimated only 48.4 percent approval of the question.

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