World

Terrorists struck close to Iraq's highest-ranking Shiite Muslim cleric, assassinating two of his aides in an apparent new attempt to provoke civil war with rival Sunnis 2-1/2 weeks before the crucial national election. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani repeatedly has called for restraint on the part of his followers, and his office was careful not to assign blame for the attacks. Meanwhile, the European Union declined an invitation to send observers to the Jan. 30 election, citing "the absence of minimal security conditions."

Without offering specifics, new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he is ready to honor the security commitments of the so-called "road map" to peace with Israel. The plan is backed by the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN. But it stalled soon after its introduction in 2003. Despite Abbas's calls for a truce with Israel, such Palestinian militants as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have said they intend to continue attacking Israeli targets.

Yet another challenge to the Dec. 26 presidential runoff election in Ukraine will be filed as soon as Friday with the Supreme Court, aides to losing candidate Viktor Yanukovich said. The court already has rejected four of his other appeals. By law, the winner of the unprecedented third vote, opposition leader Viktor Yuschchenko, cannot be sworn in until after the Supreme Court formally OK's the results.

A 2001 union leadership vote won by outspoken critics of President Hugo Chávez was voided by Venezuela's National Elections Council. In a statement Wednesday, the heavily pro-Chávez panel said not enough ballots were collected to make the election legal. The 1 million-member Venezuelan Workers' Confederation is the nation's largest union and has backed or led many of the protests against the leftist president over the past three years.

Jewish organizations joined the growing international furor over an incident in which Britain's Prince Harry was photographed in a World War II Nazi military uniform at a friend's costume party. The party was held two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and a reception for its survivors, at which Queen Elizabeth II, his grandmother, is to be the host. In addition, England was bombed heavily by Nazi forces during the war. Harry, who is third in the line of succession to the British throne, apologized for "a poor choice of costume" and said, "I am very sorry if I have caused any offense."

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