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A recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has given Palestinians encouragement, and they'll ease off on their demand that a plan for statehood emerge from the coming US-sponsored peace conference, senior officials said Thursday. Olmert said Sunday night that "now is the time" to sign a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. The Jerusalem Post reported, however, that Israeli intelligence has decided Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak politically to implement any agreements that come out of the talks.

Although there was only word-of-mouth promotion, hundreds of Iraqis turned out for an open-air performance of a play in Baghdad Thursday. Among them was the wife of President Jalal Talabani, reports said. The 50-minute play was staged in a neighborhood where a truck bomb killed dozens of people last March.

For the first time in more than three years, democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to meet with other leaders of her National League for Democracy, Burma's military government said. The meeting, to be held Friday, was announced after Suu Kyi and visiting UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari (above) discussed the possibility of "substantive dialogue" with the junta. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

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Embattled Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili ended another tumultuous day by calling a national election for Jan. 5 to try to defuse the crisis growing out of street protests against him. Earlier, he declared a 15-day state of emergency and banned demonstrations and all newscasts except those on state-controlled stations. By law, a vote was not due until late next year. The pro-Western Saakashvili has accused the Kremlin of fomenting the crisis, and his government expelled three Russian diplomats. Russia retaliated by ordering three senior Georgians to return home.

At least eight university students were hurt Wednesday in Caracas, Venezuela, when supporters of leftist President Hugo Chávez chased them back to campus after a protest march against him. The students were among a crowd estimated at 80,000 people who demanded suspension of a national referendum on changes to the Constitution that would allow Chávez to run for reelection indefinitely, give him control of the Central Bank, and declare new provinces whose governors he'd choose. Above, students (r.) try to hold back a door against armed Chávez supporters.

North Korea "feel[s] grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen," the official KCNA news agency said Thursday, following an incident last week in which sailors from a warship stationed off Somalia treated six merchant seamen who'd been hurt in a fight with pirates. The government of the reclusive communist nation regards the help as "a symbol of cooperation in the struggle against terrorism," KCNA said. The US lists North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, but is considering removing it as a reward for disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Sixty-one schools closed indefinitely in southern Thailand's Narathiwat Province Thursday, less than two weeks after the second semester of the academic year began. Representatives of the teachers told government officials they'd return to classes only after they found increased security measures to be satisfactory, reports said. Suspected Muslim separatists gunmen killed a teacher and a school superintendant there Tuesday.

Thousands of people were returning to their homes in a six-mile zone around Indonesia's Mount Kelud volcano Thursday after authorities said an eruption no longer appeared likely. The officials cautioned, however, that residents should be ready for a new evacuation order if pressure inside the volcano increased again.

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