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World

By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn / March 16, 2009



Hamas denied receiving "anything new" in the way of a proposal from Israel that would win the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called his negotiators' efforts to bring Shalit home by Sunday night "enormous [and] unprecedented," more than likely in exchange for the freeing of hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli jails. If they fail, Olmert's successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, can be expected to set much tougher terms for any deal, analysts said.

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Netanyahu has reopened discussions on formation of a unity government with his main rival, the Kadima Party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Jerusalem Post reported Sunday. It said Livni would insist on remaining in charge of foreign policy if she were to join a new government and would seek a compromise on rotation of the premiership. Netanyahu appears to be finalizing a narrow coalition with the right-wing Israel Beiteinu Party but it would become broader if Kadima joined.

Whether to impose deeper cuts in production was on the agenda Sunday as oil ministers from OPEC nations met to discuss whether supply and price are in line with the current global economy. The cartel, which pumps 40 percent of the world's crude, has lowered production three times since September, and Algeria and Venezuela have been the leading advocates for another cut. Other members are placing more emphasis on uniform compliance with the previous reductions before voting to OK a new quota. The per barrel price has plunged from slightly over $147 last summer to $46 at the close of trading Friday.

Leading politicians in Northern Ireland appealed Sunday for retired policemen and soldiers to be allowed to carry concealed guns again amid rising tensions over last week's murders by Irish Republican Army dissidents. The deaths of two off-duty soldiers and a police officer have frayed nerves, and the arrests over the weekend of suspects in their murders brought Irish nationalist rioters onto the streets in one religiously divided town.

Hundreds of employees were stranded at an industrial park just inside North Korea for a third straight day because the border crossing to South Korea was closed due to political tensions. One South Korean was permitted to return home, but only because of illness. South Korean officials called the matter "very regrettable" and urged that the gates be reopened. North Korea shut the border early last week to protest the annual US-South Korean military drills, then reopened it a day later, but closed it again on Friday.

Embattled President Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar was refusing to quit Sunday, but he offered a referendum to give voters a say on the way out of the island nation's political crisis. Although bitter rival Andry Rajoelina declared himself in charge of a transitional government and said he had the Army's backing, the latter denied taking sides. A military spokesman said its top priority was to restore order

At least nine more people were found tortured and shot to death over the weekend outside Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, even as 3,700 additional Army troops arrived to help crack down on drug-related violence. Further east, in Reynosa, police arrested the reputed chief of a drug-gang hit team, Sergio Peña Mendoza. He denied the allegation, but an assault rifle was found in the stolen truck he was driving at the time.

A disaster zone was declared for 37 miles of Australia's northeastern coast as cleanup crews tried to keep hundreds of tons of bunker fuel leaking from a storm-damaged cargo ship out of environmentally sensitive mangrove swamps and river systems. The vessel split open last week in a cyclone, also spilling containers of amonium nitrate fertilizer.

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