World

Tens of thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funeral of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, blaming his death on neighboring Syria and demanding the withdrawal of the latter's troops of occupation. The US also took the occasion to recall its ambassador to Damascus in protest of Hariri's murder. But in a visit to the Syrian capital, Iran's vice president announced that their two governments had formed "a common front" because both "face several challenges" and threats.

Confusing claims were coming from senior Iranian officials about a powerful explosion Wednesday less than 100 miles from the nation's only nuclear power plant. Despite reports that the blast could be heard far and wide, the officials suggested it may only have been a fuel tank falling from a passing plane or the result of dam construction. Later, they said no sign of an explosion had been found. Israel, which bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, quickly denied any responsibility for the blast.

The Shiite alliance that won the most votes in Iraq's Jan. 30 election failed in its first attempt to choose a single nominee for prime minister. The matter will come down to a vote by secret ballot Friday between Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi. Jaafari, who is considered a moderate, leads a faction with close ties to neighboring Iran. Chalabi, once a favorite of the US Defense Department, is the chief of the Iraqi National Congress.

Tensions between Israel's defense minister and outspoken Army chief Moshe Yaalon flared into the open, with the government announcing that the latter will step down just as the controversial withdrawal from the Gaza Strip begins. Yaalon frequently criticized major policy decisions - among them the unilateral pullout from Gaza - and analysts said his ouster would send shock waves through military ranks that could affect the withdrawal.

The first bus service between the capitals of divided Kashmir was agreed to by the top diplomats of India and Pakistan in another development in their gradually warming relations. In a meeting in Pakistan, Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh also said his government would consider joining a project to build a "pipeline for peace" that would import natural gas for both countries from Iran and Turkmenistan. His visit was the first by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan in 16 years.

An important Muslim rebel training camp fell to government troops in the southern Philippines two days after terrorist bombs exploded in Manila and other cities, killing seven people and wounding 123 others. The offensive was in retaliation for a rebel attack on an Army garrison Feb. 7 in which 27 soldiers died.

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