World

In a move previously considered unthinkable, former loyalists of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were urging fellow Sunni Muslims to vote in Thursday's national election. They also warned Al Qaeda terrorists against attacking polling places, pledging to serve as guards themselves, although the Interior Ministry said it was providing heavy security in such trouble spots as Ramadi. The loyalists had vehemently opposed all earlier votes. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric, also urged his followers to turn out in large numbers for the election.

The local commander of security forces who shot and killed protesting villagers in southern China last week has been arrested for his "wrong actions," the government said, although the scene of the incident was still under heavy guard. The announcement appeared to be an effort to mollify the villagers, whose complaints of not being compensated for land that was seized for a wind-power project led to the violence. The government admitted to three deaths; eyewitnesses claim there were as many as 20. Government leaders have become alarmed at the growing number of such protests, in part because of the potential damage to China's image as it prepares to stage the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.

A runoff next month appeared likely as Chileans trooped to the polls Sunday for a presidential election in which no candidate was expected to win more than 50 percent of the vote. A leading opinion polling firm predicted that former Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet would outpoll her leading rival, billionaire Sebastian PiƱera, by 46 percent to 25 percent, with ex-presidential runner-up Joaquin Lavin at 21 percent, and leftist Tomas Hirsch trailing the field. If she ultimately wins, Bachelet would be Chile's first female head of state.

A tunnel dug by Palestinian militants that appeared intended for infiltrating Israel from the Gaza Strip was found by security forces over the weekend. The military said it was the first discovery of its type since Israeli settlers and the troops who guarded them were withdrawn from Gaza last summer - and that its entrance would be dynamited shut. Meanwhile, high-profile Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz further weakened the ruling Likud movement by announcing his decision to leave it and join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima Party. He had been expected to challenge for the Likud leadership in next week's intraparty election. Acting chairman Tzachi Hanegbi also has defected to Kadima.

"It's big and it's going to burn for some time," police said of the fire and explosions coming from one of Britain's largest oil storage terminals. But they said there was nothing to suggest that the inferno at Buncefield, 25 miles north of London, had been caused by terrorist acts, although Al Qaeda has threatened to strike fuel depots. Thirty-nine people were hurt and smoke was so dense it was being photographed by orbiting satellites. The facility is not far from Luton Airport, which continued to operate normally, although nearby roads were closed.

An official statement was expected from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nigeria late Sunday after the nation's second major commercial jet accident in less than two months. All 107 passengers and crew members died earlier in the day when a domfestic Sosoliso Airlines flight from the capital, Abuja, to Port Harcourt crashed on landing, reportedly as lightning flashed around the airport. Many of the victims were students en route home for Christmas vacation. On Oct. 22, a Bellview Airlines flight crashed on takeoff from Lagos, the commercial capital, killing all 117 people aboard.

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