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The call by President Bush for Hamas to disarm and recognize Israel was quickly rejected by one of the militant organization's senior leaders. Moussa Abu Marzouk said, "The US president should accept the reality ... [and] deal with Hamas as it is." But Marzouk also suggested the militant organization could decide to renew its cease-fire with the Jewish state, saying Western governments "need a quiet region, without conflicts, and we know it's possible to attain that goal." In Cairo, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas disputed an Egyptian claim that he wouldn't ask Hamas to form a government unless it first recognizes Israel. Egypt is seen as the probable intermediary between Abbas and Hamas as they seek to work together after last month's Palestinian election.

In a new warning to Western governments seeking to refer Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council, its chief representative said "some" of the cameras monitoring its facilities "cannot exist" if a referral is approved. The 35 board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency are to open a series of meetings Thursday in Vienna for a decision on that issue. Meanwhile, appearing in the city of Bushehr, where one of Iran's nuclear reactors is being built, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ridiculed the US as a "hollow superpower" after Tuesday night's State of the Union address by Bush in which he vowed to prevent the Iranians from building nuclear weapons.

Another group of employees from a Tamil relief agency was reported missing in Sri Lanka Wednesday - the second in two days. On Tuesday, the island nation's separatist rebels accused paramilitaries aligned with the government of abducting five accountants who work for the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization and warned that their disappearance would make it "difficult" to participate in new peace negotiations set for Geneva later this month. The army called the reported kidnappings a fabrication, and two of the accountants resurfaced Wednesday, although they had yet to be interviewed by security police.

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A national election not later than mid-April of next year was promised by the ruler of Nepal Wednesday, the first anniversary of his seizure of power. King Gyanendra insisted that security in the Himalayan nation had improved under his direct rule and that the tide had turned against the communist rebel movement that is trying to topple him. But as he spoke, rebels were attacking an army/police outpost 190 miles west of the capital, Kathmandu. At least 20 people were killed and 143 others were missing - among them the district commander. The anniversary also brought protests in the streets of Nepal's cities despite a heightened alert among security forces.

Caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that infuriated the Islamic world when they were published in a Danish newspaper last fall were reprinted Wednesday by two other European dailies. France Soir of Paris ran the drawings on an inside page, although Page One featured a new depiction of the prophet, plus the headline: "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God." In Germany, Die Welt published one of the cartoons on its front page, arguing that democratic freedoms included a "right to blasphemy." Islamic tradition forbids any depiction of the prophet, and the original use of the cartoons Sept. 30 by the Jyllands-Posten has triggered bitter protests in Middle Eastern countries, threats of violence against Danish expatriates living there, and boycotts of Danish products.

Rescue operations were expected to resume at dawn Thursday in the hope of finding more survivors after a crowded passenger ferry sank in rough seas between two islands in eastern Indonesia. Reports said 114 people were rescued by naval vessels, although dozens of others remained missing. The ferry, which also carried cars and trucks, left port under sunny skies, but heavy rains soon moved in and roiled the water.

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