World

Huge rallies "by the great Iranian nation" will be held a week from Sunday to celebrate the "stabilization" of its uranium- enrichment program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday. Analysts said they interpret the remark to mean that Iran will have begun installing 3,000 new centrifuges for that purpose deep underground. Its only known enrichment work to date has taken place above ground. Feb. 11 is the anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Three days of calm in the Gaza Strip ended Thursday as Hamas and Fatah militants exchanged gunfire, killing or wounding a dozen people. A Fatah member also was taken captive in the fighting, and mortar shells fired by Hamas landed not far from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's residence in Gaza City. Despite mediation offers by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, analysts said it's unlikely that Hamas and Fatah leaders are close to resuming talks on forming a unity government.

With his final term winding down, President Vladimir Putin sought again to assure Russians that he won't designate his successor next year. In his annual news conference, Putin also rejected suggestions that Russia is using its vast energy reserves as a weapon to intimidate other ex-Soviet republics or customers in Europe. And he rejected US claims that proposed missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic are intended to counter Iran and pose no threat to Russia. Above, a Moscow electronics store clerk cleans a TV tuned to Putin's appearance.

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Suspected Muslim separatists in southern Thailand struck again Thursday, decapitating an ice cream vendor and shooting to death the owner of a motorcycle repair shop. Both victims were Buddhists. The attacks came as Prime Minister Surayud Chula-nont arrived in the mainly Muslim south for another of his periodic visits to try to calm sectarian tensions. More than 1,900 people have been killed since the Muslim uprising began in January 2004.

Saying, "No one is better qualified than I am to meet the challenges of the [next] five years," Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang announced that he'll seek another term. But for the first time since the former British colony reverted to Chinese control in 1997, there will be two candidates for the post. Democracy activist Alan Leong, a lawyer, also is running. Tsang (above), however, is expected to win easily when an 800-member election committee makes its choice March 25.

Dissident leaders in southern Nepal rejected proposals by Prime Minister G.P. Koirala for reform of the nation's electoral system and said, "We will continue our protests." Koirala offered ethnic Madhesis an increased number of seats in parliament and said a new constitution, to be written later this year, will call for a federal-style government. But a leader of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum said Koirala had "failed to completely address" the region's problems. At least 11 people have died in the protests, bringing accusations of police brutality, curfews, and a severe interruption of economic activity.

A ban on smoking in airports, schools, and other "closed and covered" public places went into effect across France Thursday, the first stage of a prohibition that also will cover cafes, restaurants, and bars beginning next Jan. 1. It will be enforced by more than 170,000 agents with the authority to assess fines of $88 per offense and $174 for employers who continue to permit smoking on their premises. Roughly 66,000 deaths a year in France are attributed to smoking-related illnesses.

A much-anticipated UN report on global warming is due to be made public Friday by scientists and bureaucrats from 113 countries. It's expected to say that climate change is "very likely" caused by human activity. Sources inside their closed-door conference in Paris said the choice of words puts the certainty at 90 percent. A similar report six years ago used the word "likely." Rules of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change require a consensus on every word in the report.

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