World

On a surprise visit to Iraq Sunday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to reassure the beleagured government there that his nation's troops would stay "until the job is done." He told reporters after a meeting with his counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki: "Don't be under any doubt at all" because of announced plans for a gradual withdrawal of the 7,200-man British contingent, "this isn't a change in policy." The British have handed over charge for security in two southern provinces to Iraqis and have said they expect to do the same in two other provinces early next year.

With Tuesday's deadline approaching for Ethiopian soldiers to withdraw from neighboring Somalia or be attacked by Islamic Courts Union (UIC) militiamen, reports Sunday said there is still an opening for dialogue between the two. A deal brokered by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the speaker of parliament, pledges to end hostilities with the UIC, which now controls virtually all of Somalia. Analysts said the gesture was only symbolic, since the government maintains that Ahmed no longer acts on its behalf. But at the same time, a government spokesman sought to soften its tone Sunday, telling reporters they'd "misinterpreted" its claim that the door to peace talks was closed.

The authoritarian president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was well on the way to a two-year extension of his term Sunday after the ruling ZANU-PF movement adopted a motion to "harmonize" the next elections for chief executive, parliament, and local offices. The proposal still must be OK'd by the legislature, but that is seen as a formality because it is dominated by Mugabe's party. He referred only obliquely to the issue in his closing speech to a ZANU-PF weekend convention, saying, "I am what I am because of you." Passage of the motion ensures that all three elections will be held next in 2010.

Applause erupted at a weekend meeting of legislative leaders in Cuba when Fidel Castro spoke to them by telephone, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. It offered no details of the call or on Castro's health. But analysts noted that the report appeared one day after US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told interviewers the dictator is close to death. Not long after Negroponte's words became public, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he, too, had spoken with Castro by phone. The report was the first on Castro in more than a week. He has not been seen in public since undergoing major surgery July 26.

Seven weeks of occupation by federal police ended Saturday in Oaxaca, Mexico, although about 2,000 of them were expected to remain at a military base outside the city in case of renewed trouble. The police were sent there in October to quell an attempt by leftist activists and their followers to force state Gov. Ulises Ruiz from office. In all, nine people died in the violence; more than 200 others were arrested. The upheaval cut deeply into the economy of the colorful city, which has been an international tourist attraction because of its colonial past.

For the first time "in many years," police in Copenhagen, Denmark, had to fire tear gas Saturday night to disperse an estimated 1,000 demonstrators against an order to close a youth center. A police spokesman called the scene "extremely violent" and confirmed that 200 to 300 people had been arrested. At least four people were reported hurt, two of them policemen. A Christian group bought the center five years ago but has been unsuccessful in trying to evict squatters, some of them left-wing activists.

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