All polling places in Iraq were ordered to remain open for an additional hour to accommodate the heavy turnout for Thursday's historic election for a full-time parliament. Delighted election commission officials said the order basically addressed the situation in volatile Anbar Province, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims, and Diyala Province and the city of Mosul, where a mix of Sunnis and Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds, respectively, make up the population. Most Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 vote for an interim legislature. Only scattered incidents of terrorist violence were reported.
In one of the heaviest blows to the leadership of embattled Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to date, young dissidents in his Fatah Party announced that they'll run for parliament on a competing ticket - six weeks before the scheduled election. The split is led by Marwan Barghouti, who, although serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison, is still seeking a seat in the legislature. A spokes-man for the dissidents said efforts to negotiate a compromise with them were "too late," repeating the complaint that Abbas has stacked Fatah's candidate slate with older veterans who are tainted by corruption.
A plan to shut down Muslim mosques deemed to be breeding grounds for radicalism was abandoned by Britain's government. A Home Office spokesman said a period offered for public comment on the plan had drawn 66 responses, the majority of them negative. The proposed closure was part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's response to the bombing attacks in July on the London subway and bus systems by Islamic extremists. Fifty-two people died in the explosions. Among those objecting to the closure was the Association of Chiefs of Police, which argued that it would only alienate other Muslims and drive extremism underground.
A nationwide general strike is planned for Friday in Nepal in reaction to the shooting deaths of 11 civilian villagers by a uniformed soldier. The soldier also died and 19 other people were wounded in the incident, which grew out of an argument. The government promised an investigation and said it would compensate the victims' families for their losses and for medical treatment of the wounded. But an estimated 15,000 protesters marched through the capital, Kathmandu, condemning the killings and demanding a return to democracy. The incident took place amid heightened tension over Nepal's ongoing communist insurgency.
The UN decided to evacuate even more people from its peacekeeping force in Eritrea than were ordered out last week by that nation's government. The government set Friday as its deadline for roughly 180 Americans, Canadians, and Europeans attached to the UN mission to leave, in a move seen as a sign of frustration that little has been done to force rival Ethiopia to respect the demarcation of their 1,000-mile common border. But while the UN will comply with the order, a senior peacekeeping official called the redeployment "temporary."
The high-tech barrier proposed for the US-Mexican border was slammed as "disgraceful" and a violation of immigrants' rights by President Vicente Fox. In a visit to Tamaulipas State, opposite Texas, the Mexican leader maintained Wednesday that such a barrier would not protect the US economy. Earlier this week, a US federal court struck down the last legal obstacle to completion of two parallel fences plus a system of sensors and cameras along 3-1/2 miles of border in California before it meets the Pacific Ocean. (A 14-mile stretch of fence already in place has brought a drop in illegal crossings, supporters say.) A member of Congress also has called for steel-and-wire fences along the entire length of the border, although Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cher-toff says that would cost too much.