World

In a series of new developments in Iraq:

• Thousands of US marines opened another offensive against Al Qaeda, focusing on the Euphrates River city of Haditha, where 14 Americans died Aug. 3 in the heaviest loss of life in a single terrorist attack. The operation is separate from the ongoing US push against terrorists elsewhere in the Euphrates valley near Syria.

• Al Qaeda "advised" a boycott of the Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's proposed new constitution and called for intensified attacks during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

• Sunni leaders complained bitterly that a new rule adopted last weekend by their Shiite and Kurdish colleagues makes it all but impossible for the constitutional vote to fail. The change means that the charter will be defeated if two-thirds of all registered voters reject it in at least three of Iraq's 18 provinces. Previously, it would have lost on a two-thirds "no" vote of only those casting ballots.

The chief spokesman for the Taliban remnants was captured in "a big success for our security forces," Pakistan's Interior Ministry said. Acting on a tip, they found Mullah Hakim Latifi after he'd made a call on a satellite phone, an official said. If confirmed - US sources said they had no such information - his arrest would be another key blow to the guerrillas, who have continued to attack targets in neighboring Afghanistan since the ouster of their regime in 2001. The Taliban also failed to disrupt the Sept. 18 election there, and as many as 71 of their fighters have died in fighting with Afghan and Pakistani troops on either side of the border this week, their respective governments said.

Long-delayed negotiations on admitting Turkey to full membership in the European Union opened Tuesday with the admonition that the applicant "must win the hearts and minds" of EU citizens. Turkey is an associate member and also belongs to NATO. But due to its overwhelmingly Muslim population, shaky economy, and controversial human rights record, opinion polls show a majority of respondents opposed to granting it equal status with the bloc's 25 other members. Almost simultaneous negotiations also began Tuesday with Croatia.

Another round of negotiations between Germany's two top political parties on forming a "grand coalition" government is scheduled for Wednesday amid signals by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder that he may be ready to drop his demand to stay in office. But if he doesn't, a senior source in opposition leader Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said, "the talks will have to be broken off." Schröder, whose Social Democrats won four fewer seats in parliament than the CDU/Christian Social Union alliance in elections last month, told a TV interviewer Monday, "I will not stand in the way of anything that would lead to ... a stable government in Germany."

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