World

French voters rejected the European Union's first Constitution Sunday, a stinging repudiation of President Jacques Chirac's leadership and the ambitious, decades-long effort to further unite the Continent. With nearly 96 percent of the vote counted, roughly 55.5 had said "no" to ratifying the treaty. The historic charter must be ratified by all 25 EU nations. With the Netherlands possibly following France's lead this week, the unification effort has been plunged into unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty. Clues about whether EU leaders can muster the political will for tweaks of the charter or a complete overhaul could come at a two-day summit of EU leaders set to start June 16 in Brussels. What is already clear, however, is that the French repudiation is likely to set the latest ambitious effort to unify the rapidly expanding EU back by years.

Twin suicide bombers blew themselves up Monday in a crowd of about 500 police officers gathered in Hillah, a city south of Baghdad, killing at least 20 people, as militants escalated their fight against government forces who've launched an operation to quash the insurgency in Iraq's capital. The renewed attacks came as thousands of security forces backed by US troops began sweeping through Baghdad's streets in "Operation Lighting." In a move that could further fuel a sectarian crisis, US troops detained Mohsen Abdul Hamid, the head of Iraq's largest Sunni Muslim political party, and his three sons during a house raid early Monday in western Baghdad. Iraq's president demanded his immediate release.

Germany's conservative opposition on Monday nominated Angela Merkel, a Protestant minister's daughter from the formerly communist east, as its election challenger to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, party officials said. Merkel, who would become Germany's first female leader if elected, was endorsed by a meeting of top officials from her Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, the Associated Press reported.

Israel's cabinet decided Sunday to free 400 Palestinian prisoners, but the gesture - part of a February truce - disappointed Palestinians who said Israel broke a promise to coordinate the release with them. Hours after the decision, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike on Palestinian rocket launchers as they prepared to fire in northern Gaza, in a rare attack since a February truce.

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