World

One day after rejecting a proposal that Russia take over its uranium-enrichment program, Iran reportedly asked for a new round of negotiations on the matter. The discussions could take place as soon as Tuesday, Russia's Interfax news agency said, although Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Iran was not helping itself with "the way it is behaving in the course of these talks." Lavrov, however, also hinted that his government would not back efforts in the UN Security Council - where it has veto power - to sanction Iran's nuclear program. He said Russia "will not exchange" sanctions for the support of the US in its bid to join the World Trade Organization.

At his trial Monday, the judge who headed Iraq's Revolutionary Court in the 1980s admitted sentencing 148 Shiites to death for attempting to assassinate dictator Saddam Hussein. But Awad al-Bandar said the sentences and subsequent executions were "in accordance with the law" and that the Shiites had been given a proper trial. Prosecutors argued that the defendants' trial was "imaginary" and that they hadn't even appeared in the courtroom.

Four of the eight people kidnapped by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan over the weekend were freed, government officials said Monday. All were identified as Afghans. But their four co-workers were executed on the orders of the organization's leader, Mullah Mohamad Omar, his spokesman claimed. That could not be confirmed, however. The other four were said to be ethnic Albanians. The group was employed by a German company, which had said it would pay a ransom for their release. Meanwhile, authorities in neighboring Pakistan ordered thousands of Afghan exiles living there to return home or face "severe action." At least two previous orders to that effect have not been enforced, reports said.

The death of former President Slobodan Milosevic has caused a "very complex and serious" situation in the former Yugoslavia, its foreign minister said, asking the European Union to stop applying pressure for the handover of indicted war-crimes suspect Ratko Mladic. The EU has set an end-of-March deadline for Mladic to surrender to the custody of the UN tribunal for the Balkans, and a spokeswoman said that position has not changed despite "recent developments." Doctors said Milosevic had traces of a drug in his system that hadn't been prescribed and that could have induced his death. Mladich's surrender is seen as a precondition for EU membership.

As many as 20,000 police were deployed to ensure order in Bangkok, Thailand, as protesters massed for another rally Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Organizers hoped 100,000 people would camp through the night in a public park and that 30,000 unionized public utility employees would walk off their jobs in time to join the rally. A counterdemonstration by Thaksin supporters also is planned, but only a few hundred participants had gathered by Monday night. The embattled prime minister has vowed not to quit, but reports suggested he might cancel or change the venue of his weekly cabinet meeting because of the protest.

Explosions in two more coal mines in China killed at least 23 people. Twelve others were rescued from a mine in Inner Mongolia and nine more remained trapped, the official Xinhua news agency reported Monday. In the other mine, hundreds of miles away in central Hunan Province, the density of gas was so great that rescue efforts had to be delayed, Xinhua said. It said the license of the Hunan mine was suspended earlier this month because of safety problems. At least seven fatal mining accidents have been reported in China since mid-November.

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