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"It's clear that we can't have a situation where Iran [becomes] a nuclear power," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday, rejecting the Tehran government's claims that it is using such technology only for peaceful purposes. Sharon also said, however, that Israel is not "spearheading" efforts to block Iran's nuclear ambitions, although military chief of staff Dan Halutz told an interviewer that the Jewish state is prepared to go "2,000 kilometers" (1,250 miles - the distance between the two countries) to put an end to the Iranian project. Halutz predicted European and US diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program "will not succeed." Against that backdrop, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it had no interest in pursuing a dialogue with the Bush administration although it was optimistic that a resumption of talks with European negotiators could lead to "important results." But it said if the discussions, which broke off in August, resume, Iran will accept no preconditions.

In a bid to assert control over the new border crossing procedures between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority ordered an urgent investigation into reports that at least 10 hard-line militants had returned from exile. The situation angered Israeli authorities, who threatened to sever their US-brokered deal with the authority. Senior Palestinian security official Mohamad Dahlan, in a surprise visit to the checkpoint Saturday, also demanded an end to the logistical problems caused by competing security police.

A weekend of violence was threatening the increasingly shaky cease-fire in Sri Lanka, with the deaths of seven soldiers and at least three kidnapped Muslims blamed on Tamil separatist rebels. Two Tamils also were reported to have been beaten to death by Muslims. Tensions have been mounting in the island nation since rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran warned last week of an increase in such confrontations if the government of new President Mahinda Rajapakse did not address Tamil grievances. The Sri Lanka International Monitoring Mission urged both sides to "do their utmost" to calm the situation before it results in an "irreparable deterioration of security."

With voters still arriving at the polls, the political opposition in Kazakhstan was already claiming "alarming signals" of fraud as President Nursultan Nazar-bayev sought reelection to a new seven-year term. The oil-rich ex-Soviet republic has never had an election judged to be free or fair, but Nazarbayev said this one "is being held in unprecedentedly democratic conditions." Late opinion polls showed him with 71 percent support over challenger Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, although the US-based Intermedia Survey Institute noted that the figure could reflect wariness on the part of some respondents to declare "their true attitudes."

A state of emergency was declared by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko following discovery of the first known outbreak of bird flu there. More than 2,500 fowl were found dead of the virus in five villages, and public health officials were slaughtering and destroying more hens, turkeys, and geese to try to prevent its spread. Meanwhile, in neighboring Romania, a farming village was quarantined after eight domesticated birds were found to be infected. And Indonesian authorities reported another human death from the H5N1 strain of the virus, the eighth there so far.

The toll of coal mine disasters in China rose by two over the weekend, on top of the Nov. 27 explosion that killed at least 169 people in Heilongjiang Province. In one of the latest incidents, 42 men were missing after an un- licensed mine in Henan Province flooded, and rescuers were pumping out water so search efforts could go forward. In the other, at least 16 deaths were reported after a mine in Guizhou Province exploded. The Xinhua news agency, said the families of those killed in the Heilongjiang explosion would receive $27,000 each for their losses, plus $120 worth of food aid from the government.

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