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Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were assigned to draft a joint statement on the principles that will guide the next round of peace talks. At their meeting Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed that "final status" negotiations would begin after the planned conference to be sponsored by the US and held next month. Aides to Abbas said their side would set a six-month deadline for completion of a treaty.

Iraq's Oil Ministry blasted a set of deals between the government of the semiautonomous Kurdish region and foreign energy companies. The agreements, worth almost $1 billion, call for oil exploration and the building of two refineries. A US Embassy spokesman called the agreements "not very helpful." The Iraqi and US governments have urged against such moves until after a law is in place to open up the entire national oil and gas sector.

In an apparent first, a Sunni member of Iraq's parliament was being held for questioning after he was caught at a meeting of Al Qaeda suspects. Sources in parliament identified him as Naif Mohammed Jasim of the Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc, which withdrew from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's governing coalition last month. The meeting 160 miles north of Baghdad was raided by an Iraqi Special Forces unit last weekend.

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Mincing no words, the "elders" mission to Sudan denounced President Omar al-Bashir's government over the "ethnic cleansing" of black Africans in Darfur. At a news conference while still on Sudanese soil, they described in emotional terms the ordeals that Darfur refugees had related to them and urged Bashir to hand over war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court. Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who led the group, called Darfur "one of the most awful places in the world." Sudanese reporters at the briefing asked no questions.

An auxiliary elevator had brought more than 2,000 South African gold miners safely back to the surface by Thursday afternoon after their main lift was damaged by a falling section of pipe. Rescue operations were continuing around the clock at the mine near Johannesburg, and authorities said the hundreds of others waiting to board the backup elevator were unhurt and had ventilation and water. But critics complained that the accident, more than a mile underground, wasn't announced for 15 hours, and then by the miners' union, not by the owners. Above, evacuees walk off the elevator

Opposition parties in Canada's Parliament were given an ultimatum by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: help pass his agenda or there will be a national election this fall that they're not ready for. In a news conference Wednesday, Harper (l.) said he'll outline in an Oct. 16 speech such priorities as "significant" tax cuts and an extension of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan. Opponents of his minority government are demanding a troop withdrawal. Harper needs opposition help to pass legislation. The defeat of any bill automatically would trigger a new election.

At least 40 people were hurt and dozens more were arrested in a fight between farmers and police in rural China, reports said. A human rights group based in Hong Kong said the clash in northwestern Xinjiang Province erupted after police took the side of landowners who'd leased fields to the farmers to plant cotton and then offered less than the market price for the crop. Such incidents have become common in China, usually due to economic disparity or anger at official corruption.

Peacekeepers from the UN mission in Congo were sent to respond to the crash of a cargo plane in a residential neighborhood of the capital, Kinshasa. At least 19 people reportedly were killed. The aircraft exploded on impact, setting houses on fire. The accident was the second of its type in Congo in less than a month.

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