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Saying he is trying "to protect democracy in Iraq," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari refused again Wednesday to abandon his bid for a new term. But Vice President Adel Abdul-Mehdi, a fellow Shiite, told the BBC that Jaafari, while a "wonderful man," has not been an "efficient" leader and "should step aside." Ultimately, the issue may have to be decided by parliament, other senior Iraqis said.

The new Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority held its first cabinet meeting and confronted an immediate crisis: an empty treasury. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he and the others in his cabinet would serve without compensation until after money was found for the other 140,000 people on the authority's payroll. Israel has halted the transfer of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and, except for Islamic nations, most foreign donors are expected to withhold payments because Hamas will not recognize the Jewish state.

A day after saying he'd quit as prime minister of Thailand but stay on in a caretaker role, Thaksin Shinawatra told supporters he has relinquished even that. Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit assumed the office on an acting basis, and the Thai Stock Exchange's index rose 3.7 percent at the news. Chitchai, however, is not a member of parliament and is unlikely to be chosen when it meets to consider Thaksin's successor. Despite the new developments, the main opposition parties said they still won't participate in a special election later this month to fill seats left vacant in the voting they boycotted last Sunday.

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Another major offensive by government forces against foreign militants and their local supporters was in its second day in northwestern Pakistan. A military spokesman said soldiers had killed 16 people and captured 19 others, although five from their own side were dead. The clash erupted after a rocket attack on an Army checkpoint near the border with Afghan-istan Tuesday night that killed three soldiers and wounded several others. Tensions in the region have been running high since an offensive last month in which about 200 tribesmen sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the Taliban died.

Hopes for early resolution of the political divide in Northern Ireland were in tatters after an informant for the British government was found murdered in the remote cottage where he'd been in hiding. The Irish Republican Army denied responsibility for the death of ex-Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson and suggested it was the work of dissidents opposed to the party's efforts to rejoin a power-sharing government with Protestants. Sinn Fein is the IRA's political ally. But the leader of the largest Protestant party in Ulster said the finger of blame pointed "at IRA-Sinn Fein." Donaldson admitted in December that he had spied for Britain for decades.

All small coal mines will be closed by the end of next year, China's government said, even though the number of deaths from accidents in the January-to-March quarter was 60 percent lower than for the same period in 2005. The official China Daily newspaper quoted a government official as saying large mining companies "usually pay more attention to safety" and that the mines affected by the closure would be encouraged to merge with them. Coal generates more than two-thirds of China's electricity, but the nation has the world's worst mining accident record.

Too few women turned out at the polls Tuesday in the first exercise of their right to vote in Kuwait to elect a female candidate to the emirate's Municipal Council. The vacant seat went to a man, who finished with almost four times more votes than his nearest female challenger. The turnout of women was reported at 29 percent of those eligible to vote, and some complained of not knowing what to do when they entered their polling places. Women's rights activists said they would try to better organize for next year's election for a new national legislature.

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