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Saying "I remain president of Iraq up to this moment," Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea at his trial to charges of arresting and murdering Shiites and torturing women and children in the 1980s. The trial, which began last October, has entered a new phase in which Hussein's lawyers will present his defense. His half-brother, former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

All eyes in the Darfur conflict were on two holdout rebel chiefs as Monday night's deadline approached for signing a new peace agreement with Sudan's government. Senior UN humanitarian aid official Jan Egeland said the deal is the only hope for ending the conflict in the restive region, which he said could spin out of control if the accord isn't enforced. The African Union, which has peacekeeping troops in Darfur, warned that it would take "appropriate measures" - to include requesting sanctions by the UN Security Council - if the rebel holdouts don't sign. But the leader of Darfur's largest tribe said he would not accept the accord until greater compensation is paid to victims of the violence, among other demands. The government has rejected those conditions.

From across the Protestant-Catholic divide, 108 members of Northern Ireland's legislature returned to their seats Monday for its first session since October 2002. But they soon adjourned for a reception given by Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain. Hain told them Britain and the Irish Republic would not "blink" over the Nov. 24 deadline they set for formation of a power-sharing government and would scrap the assembly at Stormont if there was no agreement. Analysts said they expect the process to go down to the wire.

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At least 100 farmers were turned down Monday in their appeal to Afghanistan's government to continue growing opium poppies. A delegation brought to Kabul by a French group that advocates making medicinal use of opium derivatives sought a special licensing system that would sanction poppy-growing in exchange for supporting the government's critical antinarcotics campaign. Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,500 tons of opium last year, about 90 percent of the world's supply.

Two hundred packs of explosives were found by government forces in a van in northern Sri Lanka Monday, two days after an attack that killed 13 Tamil noncombatants and drew the island nation still closer to all-out civil war. The government and Tamil separatist rebels blamed each other for the deaths Saturday night, with the latter claiming they had no access to the scene. In an interview with Reuters via satellite telephone, a rebel spokesman acknowledged that the two sides already are in a "low-intensity" conflict with almost daily acts of violence that have killed more than 200 people since April 1. He said: "The armed forces must stop attacks and ... be confined to barracks. That would stop the war."

A new cease-fire signed by Islamist and secular militants and the return of relative quiet Monday weren't enough to lure most residents back to the homes in Somalia's capital that they'd fled when the worst fighting in more than a decade erupted 10 days ago. Analysts said people were wary of returning home because the signers of the truce did so separately, refusing to meet face to face. The secularists accuse the Islamists of having ties to Al Qaeda. The Islamists call the secular alliance a puppet of the US.

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