World

Exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may return to Pakistan, the Supreme Court ruled – a decision that analysts said poses new problems for embattled President Pervez Musharraf. The court's announcement Thursday set off a celebration by supporters in the capital, Islamabad, and in London, Sharif said he intended to leave for home "as soon as possible" and lead a campaign to deny Musharraf reelection this fall. Another ex-prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who has been negotiating a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, also welcomed the court's announcement, although Sharif has criticized her efforts.

Authorities relaxed the indefinite curfew in Bangladesh's largest cities for three hours Thursday so residents could buy food and other essentials, and cellphone service was restored. But by nightfall streets were empty again as Army units patrolled, and analysts said the military-backed government still saw the potential for further violence. Earlier protests started by disaffected students brought the downfall of two other military governments.

Two Sunni towns north of Bagh-dad were attacked by hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda militants Thursday, apparently because the residents recently had turned against them. Combat on such a scale is considered unusual for the terrorist organization. Police said the residents fought back, although casualties were heavy and the attackers fled with 15 women hostages.

Journalists were chased from the scene in Yangon, the former capital of Burma (Myanmar), as a band of about 30 protesters demonstrated for the third time this week against the new hike in fuel prices. But for the second day in a row the group was set upon by supporters of the ruling military junta, and some were seen being forced into waiting vehicles and driven away. In a bow to the protests, however, the junta halved fares for the shortest bus routes. Analysts predicted the demonstrations would continue but would remain small.

The government order to halve consumer prices in Zimbabwe lowered the inflation rate by 55 points in July, the Central Statistics Office said Thursday. But since May, the last time an official report was issued, inflation has more than doubled on an annual basis, to 7,634.8 percent, it conceded. On the black market, the only place where many staples can be found since the order, prices are at least four times higher than those fixed by the government. But they are not factored into the inflation calculations. Most of Zimbabwe's neighbors have single-digit inflation.

Thirty-six houses and a market were in ruins, and two people were killed in new violence between rival gangs in East Timor. It was not immediately clear whether the trouble was politically related, but unrest has flared sporadically since June, when former President Xanana Gusmao was named prime minister even though his party finished second in elections for a new parliament.

Heavy rain from the remnants of hurricane Dean pelted central Mexico Thursday, but emergency crews already were reconnecting downed power lines and the state oil company reported no damage to its production facilities. The storm, downgraded to a tropical depression, was expected to dissipate as it crossed the Sierra Madre mountain range. It was blamed for one death after killing 18 people earlier as it crossed the Caribbean.

An apparent settling of scores between rival gangs resulted in a fire that killed at least 25 inmates in a prison in south-central Brazil Thursday. The incident came two days after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced a new $3.3 billion anticrime program that, in part, calls for building additional prisons to relieve serious overcrowding. The jail where the fire occurred had an inmate population of more than twice its listed capacity.

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