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The three-day curfew in Baghdad was lifted by Iraqi authorities in the hope that sectarian violence had ebbed. But as businesses reopened and traffic returned to the streets Monday, four mortar shells landed in a Shiite neighborhood, killing four people and wounding 16 others. In a related development, a spokesman for the Sunni political alliance that suspended participation in talks on forming a full-time government last week said "we are on the way" to returning. "Within the next two days we expect the situation to improve, and then we will have talks," he told the Associated Press.

The new "basic" agreement between Iran and Russia on jointly enriching uranium appeared in danger of collapse Monday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that the Islamic republic must first freeze its own enrichment program while the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency clarifies "all issues concerning the Iranian nuclear program that emerged in the past." But Iranian officials repeated claims that their government has the right to nuclear research and said the work would not stop despite international criticism.

Ignoring strong warnings from the government of mainland China, Taiwan's president announced Monday that parliament's council on eventual reunification "will cease to function." Chen Shui-bian denied that the move changes the basis of relations with the government in Beijing. "As long as the free will of Taiwanese to determine their future is respected," he said, the island "will not exclude any possible form of future development" in relations with China. But it was virtually certain to provoke an angry response from China's leaders, who had said "the dangerous plan" would "trigger a serious crisis across the Taiwan Straits and destroy peace and stability" in the region. The US, which is pledged to defend Taiwan, has opposed any change in the status quo, and its de facto embassy there offered no immediate comment.

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A one-month extension - until the end of March - was granted to Serbia's government to hand over war-crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic to the UN tribunal for the Balkans. Otherwise, European Union foreign ministers said Monday, Serbia "could" find the preliminary discussions on its bid for membership "disrupted." The next round of those talks is set for April 4-5. Asked for comment, Serbia's deputy prime minister said government security services have a "clear mandate" to arrest Mladic and he hoped the former Army commander would be in the tribunal's hands by the scheduled start of the discussions. Mladic was indicted in 1995 and went into hiding in 2001.

The early national election called for April 2 in Thailand will be boycotted, all three main opposition parties said Monday, because Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would not agree to their proposals for political reform. Thaksin said the vote would go ahead as scheduled, adding, "what the opposition parties do is up to them." Reportedly, the proposals by the Democrat, Chart Thai, and Mahachon parties call for the prime minister to step aside until the election is held. He was expected to win by a comfortable margin, but analysts say the boycott may result in increased seats in parliament for his Thai Rak Thai Party.

Two more countries joined the list of those with confirmed cases of bird flu, and public health experts meeting in Paris conceded that "there's this big, enormous black hole about [how the virus is spread by] wild birds that we know nothing about." Laboratory officials in Niger said they were trying to determine how closely the cases there match the H5N1 strain detected elsewhere. Niger is the northern neighbor of Nigeria, where H5N1 was confirmed earlier this month. H5N1 also was found in wild swans in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where domestic poultry was being culled in the affected area.

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