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The Northern Ireland peace process came to a grinding halt yesterday as Protestant Unionists balked at forming a new power-sharing arrangement with the Roman Catholic nationalists. But some observers say a midsummer pause might revive the negotiations.

Prognosticating a Northern Ireland peace pact may be easy compared with predicting when the world's second-largest economy will revive. Still, there are encouraging signs coming from Japan.

In Iran, this round in the struggle for power appears to be over. But it's not clear if the reformers gained anything.

The NRA would love to have the influence of Malta's bird hunters. But entry to the European Union presents a new challenge for the boys of buckshot.

- David Clark Scott, World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *THE ICE CREAM SPRINKLES INDICATOR: The Monitor's Cameron Barr has only heard tales of Japan's heady "bubble economy" of a decade ago. Those were the days when Japanese were buying US skyscrapers and eating food dusted with gold leaf. Cameron's five years in Tokyo have coincided with stagnation and recession, making him a skeptic about forecasts of recovery. But the final course of a recent dinner at a Chinese restaurant persuaded him, he says, to revise his view. Out came his order of black-sesame-seed ice cream - topped with gold flakes.

*SHE GOT GAME: "Female athletes? Why? Wouldn't you rather interview me?" Reporter Heather Hewett often met with incredulity from male student athletes in Senegal when she tried to find women who played sports. She finally tracked them down. But it wasn't easy. Often women play in out-of-the-way fields or courts where they won't be observed by a scornful populace.

*IRAN'S POLITICS OF PORTRAITS: Years ago, shops and offices in Iran had little choice when it came to decorating, says Mideast correspondent Scott Peterson. Always there was a stern shot of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, who was considered by Shiite Muslims to be "God on Earth" and was the father of their revolution. But since the reformist Mohamad Khatami was voted into power in 1997 and decried official portraits, shopkeepers have a choice that reveals their political leanings. Now religious and political hard-liners put up portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Moderates hang a portrait of President Khatami.

Which black-turbaned portrait does Scott have on his desk in Amman? "To be politically correct: all three, of course, on a single round plate decked with pink roses and an Iranian flag."

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