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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn / July 18, 2008



Iraq's government scored two new diplomatic victories Thursday as neighboring Kuwait named its first ambassador to Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War. In the other, the Sunni leader of Lebanon's parliament, Saad Hariri, visited Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss improved relations between Iraq and its Arab neighbors. Analysts saw significance in Hariri's visit since he is close to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, which so far has been cool toward Maliki.

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Hopes for an early resolution of the deep political division in Zimbabwe hit a major snag Thursday. After week-long mediation efforts by the African Union, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with President Robert Mugabe's government, saying "our demands have not been met." The memorandum would have set negotiations in motion for a power-sharing government.

Saying, "This is the most difficult day of my life," Vice President Julio Cobos of Argentina cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate at 4:30 a.m. Thursday to reject controversial tax increases on grain exports. He expressed hope, however, that President Cristina Fernandez "will understand." Opponents predicted that the defeat of the tax package would force Fernandez to rescind the executive order she issued to impose it.

A cease-fire retroactive to Monday of this week was declared by a purported umbrella group of Muslim separatists in southern Thailand. A spokesman for the separatists said anyone who committed further acts of violence in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces would be "a criminal." But commanders of government forces in the region said they'd never heard of the United Southern Underground and would "continue to be vigilant in providing security" there. More than 3,000 people have been killed since the separatist insurgency flared in January 2004.

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