World

The candidates finished campaigning for Friday's presidential election in Iran, amid indications that it will be the closest in history. Late opinion polls suggest that while former President Hashemi Rafsanjani leads his seven rivals, his support will fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Rafsanjani has said he wants improved relations with the West but that the US should first release billions of dollars in frozen assets to gain Iran's trust. His closest rivals are would-be human-rights reformer Mustafa Moin and Mohamad Baqer Qalibaf, a former senior police official who is believed to have the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Forty-seven million Iranians are eligible to vote, but opponents of the hard-line clerical regime are urging a boycott.

The commission investigating the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq was "urgently reviewing" two previously unknown e-mail memos suggesting that Secretary-General Kofi Annan may have known after all about the lucrative contract awarded to a Swiss company that employed his son. Annan has said he has no memory of 1998 meetings, detailed in the e-mails by a former Cotecna executive, at which the multimillion-dollar contract allegedly was discussed and for which the company was told it could count on the support of senior UN officials. Cotecna later was hired to monitor the program, from which ousted dictator Saddam Hussein is believed to have looted billions of dollars. Annan has claimed that an interim report on the probe completely exonerates him.

Although details were not being made public, an Australian held hostage for more than a month in Iraq was freed Wednesday. Douglas Wood, an engineer, was rescued by Iraqi troops in Baghdad with the backing of US forces. He was abducted in late April by a group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq.

For the second time in less than a month, the Liberal minority government of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin survived a set of no-confidence votes in Parliament, all but eliminating the possibility of a national election this summer. Many of the 16 votes on budget issues were decided by a tally of 153-149. On May 19, Martin's government needed a tiebreaker by the Speaker of the House of Commons to defeat the earlier confidence motion.

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