World

More pressure was building up against Prime Minister Fuad Siniora of Lebanon Sunday as hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian Shiite protesters jammed downtown Beirut demanding that he cede some of his power or step down. Observers said the throng was one of the largest in the nation's history. Siniora has refused to quit, although he has acknowledged that the situation threatens Lebanon's security as well as its political and economic sectors. Meanwhile, President Emile Lahoud returned unsigned to Siniora's cabinet a resolution that endorses an international tribunal for suspects in last year's assassination of anti-Syrian former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lahoud said the cabinet, which has only anti-Syrian Sunni members left, is illegitimate.

Encouraged by the support of Iran's top leaders, Hamas denounced the call for early Palestinian elections as "a coup against democracy." The call came Saturday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said he is exhausted from months of negotiations with Hamas over formation of a unity government. Abbas, who represents Fatah, a Hamas rival, is expected to put his sentiments in a speech next weekend, aides said. He is under international pressure to break the deadlock with Hamas, and an early election remains his only legal option for bringing down the latter's regime. Iran is believed to have given Hamas leaders $120 million on their visit to Tehran over the weekend.

In her first public comments, the widow of poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko accused Kremlin officials of involvement in his murder, although she stopped short of blaming President Vladimir Putin personally. Marina Litvinenko told two London newspapers that her husband had felt safe in exile in Britain even though he was an outspoken critic of Putin. But she said, "what Putin does around him in Russia makes it possible to kill a ... person on British soil." She said she wouldn't cooperate with Russian investigators when they arrive in London to probe the assassination. Meanwhile, traces of the poison used in the murder, polonium-210, were found in a residence used by a Litvinenko contact in Germany.

More than a month before the national election in Bangladesh, Army troops were ordered to deploy across the country Sunday. Caretaker President Iajuddin Ahmed said the soldiers would guard against further chaos in the wake of violent antigovernment protests led by an alliance of 14 political parties. The alliance had threatened a siege of the presidential palace in Dhaka, the capital. Critics quickly blasted the deployment, saying that Ahmed should have decreed a state of emergency instead. Voting is scheduled for Jan. 23.

A crackdown appeared to be under way against critics of the military coup in Fiji. An Army spokesman confirmed Sunday that dissidents were being brought to its headquarters in the capital, Suva, where they'd be ordered to refrain from making "any statements that will be inciting, or trying to cause, problems." Meanwhile, ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase announced he'd risk arrest by returning to Suva this week to seek a meeting with Army commander Frank Bainimarama "to assess ... what can be done to peacefully restore democracy."

Incumbent Marc Ravalomanana was declared the winner of Madagascar's presidential election, defeating 13 challengers. Elections officials put his share of the Dec. 3 vote at 55 percent, easily enough to avoid a runoff. But his closest rival said he wouldn't accept the verdict because of problems with voter registration, although observers said the election generally had gone well.

Smoke enveloped the second-largest city in Australia Sunday from the nation's worst wildfires in 70 years. The situation in and around Melbourne was made more worrisome by strong winds and temperatures hovering around 108 degrees F. Despite the efforts of more than 3,500 firefighters aided by military personnel and volunteers, the blazes had destroyed at least two houses and a half-million acres of forest and farmland.

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