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The controversial Ahmed Chalabi, once a favorite of the US defense establishment, was gaining momentum as a candidate for prime minister of Iraq after a rival from the leading Shiite political alliance took himself out of contention. Chalabi fell from favor last year, when he was detained briefly on suspicion of counterfeiting. He has the support of a majority of the members of the United Iraqi Alliance who will sit in the new National Assembly, reports said. What role interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will play in Iraq's new government is unclear, since his party placed a distant third in the Jan. 30 election.

A new dispute over Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank city of Jericho was clouding the improving relations with Palestinians. The sides were at odds because of Palestinian demands for the removal of all military checkpoints in the city, the first of four in the West Bank over which Israel has agreed to yield control. The dispute was not expected to stop Wednesday's final vote in parliament on the plan by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for withdrawal of all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank.

Demands grew louder for the resignation of Lebanon's government and the withdrawal of 14,000 Syrian troops after the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The nation began three days of mourning amid reports that the number of deaths from the bombing of his motorcade had risen to 17. Most suspicion has fallen on Syria, which for years has decided policy in Lebanon. Hariri recently had joined the forces calling for Syria to leave.

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The deadliest mining disaster in China since communist rule began in 1949 was being investigated after it killed at least 203 men and left 12 others trapped underground. Such accidents are an embarrassment to the Beijing government, yet China's mine safety record remains the worst in the world. Last year, more than 6,000 miners died in accidents or floods.

Angry survivors claimed that help was slow in arriving after a space heater touched off a fire that killed 59 people attending a Shiite Muslim festival in Iran's capital. At least 350 others were hurt. The fire broke out as a mosque was jammed with worshipers. But fire officials defended their response, and the mosque was undergoing emergency repairs so it could reopen immediately.

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