World

Iran's government is on the verge of opening the bidding for 19 more nuclear power plants, reports said Monday. The Islamic republic said last April it would solicit bids for two more nuclear plants but since then has made no other details public. Its Bushehr reactors, for which Russia began delivering fuel last week, are expected to become operational late next year.

While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was rejecting feelers from Hamas for a truce, reports said he was trying to broaden the definition of Palestinian prisoners who could be freed. Such a move, if OK'd by his cabinet, could lead to a deal with Hamas for the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit. An estimated 9,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails, and analysts said Olmert wants cabinet backing for their freedom because although he unilaterally could order them released, doing so could anger the general public.

Candidates for president in Kenya held their final campaign rallies in the hours before Christmas, with late opinion polls showing the outcome of Thursday's election could be the closest in history.Opposition leader Raila Odinga led some surveys by eight points, but their accuracy was being questioned, and analysts said the differences on key issues between him and incumbent Mwai Kibaki were imperceptible. Seven others also are vying for votes.

Jubilant communists celebrated the agreement by Nepal's other political parties to abolish the monarchy and transform the Himalayan kingdom into a full republic. The deal will bring the communists, or Maoists as their movement is known, back into the government they withdrew from in September over inaction on the issue. Elections for a new national assembly, which will rewrite the Constitution, are due early next year, perhaps in April. The monarchy, which has become increasingly unpopular, dates back to 1769.

By a margin of 97 to 46, the interim coalition government of Belgium passed its critical vote of confidence in parliament Sunday. But critics said the passage did nothing to bridge the deep division over regional autonomy between the Dutch-speaking Flemish majority and poorer French-speaking Walloons. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt pledged to seek greater devolution for the two regions before he is required to hand over power at the end of March to the winner of the June 10 national election.

Results from the presidential election in Uzbekistan, while still incomplete, appeared to indicate an easy victory for incumbent Islam Karimov, the only leader the former Soviet republic has had since 1989. Karimov had promised a transparent election, but monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday it fell below democratic standards and "was held in a strictly controlled political environment, leaving no room for real opposition."

Senior officials in Tajikistan's Interior Ministry lowered the number of deaths from the avalanche last week from 16 to 3, saying the earlier figure released by the emergency services agency was "a mistake." The nation's main north-south highway was closed late Friday after tons of snow slid off a mountainside, burying vehicles about 40 miles outside the capital, Dushanbe.

On a trial basis, "non-intrusive" ads that discourage drinking and driving will be inserted into video games sold in Scotland, the government announced Monday. A Transport Ministry official said the $20,000 project is being undertaken because highway accidents involving alcohol were increasing. He said innovative approaches were needed to reach people aged 15 to 24, an estimated 73 percent of whom have access to video game consoles at home.

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