Amid heavy security, an estimated 1 million Shiites made a peaceful pilgrimage to the holy city of Najaf Sunday, despite the ongoing sectarian violence elsewhere in Iraq that killed 63 more people, many of them by decapitation. The pilgrimage was in memory of Imam Ali, one of the most revered Shiite clerics and a cousin of the prophet Muhammad, who was assassinated during Ramadan in the 40th year after the emergence of Islam.
Protestant and Catholic political parties in Northern Ireland were given until Nov. 10 to respond to details of a breakthrough peace proposal presented to the two sides over the weekend by the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland. If they agree to the plan, a new "first minister" and a deputy will be nominated two weeks later and Ulster's new power-sharing government will begin functioning next March 26. Britain and Ireland originally were prepared to pull the plug on self-rule in Northern Ireland Nov. 24 unless Protestants and Catholics agreed to serve together in its parliament.
Moving to consolidate their gains in Somalia, Islamist militiamen shut down a radio station controlled by an "evil" secular warlord and defeated an attempt by opponents to recapture the important Kismayo seaport near the border with Kenya. Kismayo residents who are thought to have helped plan the attempt are being arrested, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) said. Meanwhile, the UIC's security chief told Reuters that its fighters "in phases" will go door to door, confiscating the weapons of nonmembers. "Harmony in the Horn of Africa," Abdullahi Malim Ali claimed, "is in our hands."
Another year's delay in the long-awaited presidential election in Ivory Coast was announced on a UN website over the weekend, pushing the voting back until next October. But there also were claims that no formal decision on the matter will be made until the Security Council discusses it next week. Voting, already postponed since October of last year, was to have taken place at the end of the month. Roughly 10,000 foreign peacekeepers maintain a buffer zone between rebel forces, who control the north of the country, and loyalists of President Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo's term was extended by 12 months at the time of the previous delay under terms of a UN peace plan.
Despite hopes of a breakthrough in their peace talks, the government of Nepal and representatives of the nation's communist rebels failed for the fourth time Sunday to bridge their differences. No date for a resumption of negotiations was set, with both sides saying they needed more preparation for the two key disputes: the future of Nepal's monarchy and the disarming of the rebel forces. The rebels have vowed to organize massive protests in the streets of Kathmandu, the capital, if the talks ended unsuccessfully. After each previous round, the par-ticipants had said they were "very close" to an agreement.
The ousted prime minister of Thailand may return home if that is his wish, but only after political tension there has eased, his interim successor said Sunday. The new cabinet is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss when to announce an end to martial law, which was imposed Sept. 19 as Thaksin Shinawatra attended the annual opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. The Army general who now heads the Defense Ministry said last week that martial law should remain in place for at least another month and suggested that Thaksin's return would raise tension again and could lead to political violence.
More than 200 applications have been received from whites who once farmed in Zimbabwe to return to their work, the government said over the weekend. Lands Minister Flora Buka said the applications have come despite the ongoing confiscation of white farms for redistribution to poor blacks. President Robert Mugabe's government defends such seizures as necessary to reverse injustices of colonial rule. But they've helped to bring persistent food shortages. In February, published reports said the situation had become so dire that some white farmers who've lost their land would be invited to return. Coupled with a severe economic crisis, the shortages have propelled inflation to more than 1,000 percent.