World

Confusion appeared among senior leaders of Iraq on how soon coalition military forces there can be spared. Attending a conference in Vienna, President Jalal Talabani said the situation in his country is "improving" and talks on withdrawing foreign troops can begin around the end of next year. A "step by step" exit of British troops, in particular, could start in 2007, he said. That seemed to contradict his own words of a day earlier, when he told a TV interviewer that Britain's forces could be out by the end of 2006. On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi said significant numbers of American troops could leave Iraq next year.

Another outbreak of so-called bird flu was reported by health authorities in China, the ninth there in less than a month. It came as experts from the UN's World Health Organization were in China to try to help provincial officials cope with the spread of the virus. Indonesia, meanwhile, attributed another human death to bird flu. Other strains believed capable of infecting people were reported in Taiwan and Vietnam, and Romania's Agriculture Ministry said four dead hens had tested positive for the virus. Authorities in Japan were preparing to slaughter 80,000 more chickens as a precaution after another outbreak there.

By a show of hands, the party of outgoing German Chancelor Gerhard Schröder overwhelmingly approved the proposed coalition with the rival Christian Democrats (CDU) that will make Angela Merkel his successor and the nation's first female head of government. The coalition needs only the OK of parliament next week to be installed. Earlier, Merkel voted with the majority of the CDU to form the coalition.

An 18th straight night of rioting by Muslim youths across France Sunday left 284 more cars in ruins, and President Jacques Chirac was to make his first TV address to the nation on the matter. Reports said he would explain his government's decision to ask parliament for a 90-day extension of emergency powers to give law-enforcement agencies "the means they need to bring a permanent return to calm."

Some of the Islamist terror suspects arrested in a raid earlier this month in Australia also were stopped by police last December near a nuclear reactor whose access-gate lock had been cut, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. According to a document offered by the prosecution, each of the suspects offered a reason for their presence in the area that differed from the others. The prosecution also alleges that the suspects stockpiled hundreds of gallons of chemicals used to mix a particularly volatile explosive and that all but two attended jihad training camps as recently as last April.

Amid ultratight security, campaigning ended for Sri Lanka's 13 presidential candidates, although all signs pointed to the race coming down to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The've proposed opposite visions of how to seek peace with Tamil separatist rebels. Rajapakse has vowed to tighten the terms of a cease-fire with the Tamils and has ruled out a homeland for them. Wickremesinghe, who brokered the truce three years ago, is offering devolution of power to the rebels. Incumbent Chandrika Kumaratunga, who has struggled to lead the nation back from the devastating tsunami of last Dec. 26, may not run again.

A midnight deadline loomed for leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to apologize to his Mexican counterpart or diplomatic ties between their nations will be cut. Tensions between him and Vicente Fox already were high when Chávez warned on his TV show Sunday, "Don't mess with me, sir, because you'll get stung." Mexico's Foreign Ministry said the comment "strikes at the dignity of the Mexican people." The leaders are on opposite sides of the proposed free trade zone of the Americas, which Chávez has pronounced "dead."

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