Under international pressure to reform his administration of Palestinian affairs, Yasser Arafat accepted blame for having made mistakes and pledged to hold new elections. But, in an address to the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament) that critics called vague and sometimes incoherent, he appealed for patience and blasted Israel for "matters [that] have been going in the wrong direction." And he made no mention of a contest for new leadership of the Palestinian Authority, calling only for legislative and municipal elections. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he'd engage in new peace negotiations only after reforms to the authority and the end of all attacks against the Jewish state. (Related story, page 6.)

Official news outlets in Cuba offered little or no follow-up coverage of a grass-roots campaign for greater liberties cited by ex-US President Carter in an uncensored broadcast to the nation Tuesday. His reference to the Varela Project was the first most Cubans had heard of the initiative, a direct challenge to the Castro government backed by the signatures of more than 11,000 people who seek a referendum on freedom of assembly and the right to private businesses. Analysts said it remained to be seen whether the speech was more than a goodwill concession by Castro to Carter. Above, the two chat after a baseball game in Havana.

A special US envoy's mission to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India ended with no apparent sign of success a day after an attack in disputed Kashmir by suspected Islamic militants killed 34 people, most of them women and children. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca gave no details of her meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, after an earlier stop in India's capital. Musharraf has offered talks, but India has shown no sign of willingness to accept.

Voting was off to a brisk start to choose a new government in the Netherlands, nine days after the murder of a charismatic politician who'd been expected to lead his party to a strong showing. By shortly after noon, 32 percent of the nation's 12 million eligible voters already had cast ballots – 4 percent higher than at the same point in the last general election four years ago. Pim Fortuyn's List, the party formed by the assassinated nationalist, was considered likely to finish as the second-largest bloc in parliament.

In what appeared to be a preemptive strike against his critics, Pope John Paul II brushed off suggestions that he may retire because of old age and poor health. The pontiff, whose next birthday is Saturday, told an audience in St. Peter's Square in Rome he wanted to "continue with loyalty in the ministry the Lord has given me." No pope has resigned willingly since 1294. Aides said John Paul II would not resist using a wheelchair in public, if necessary. Some leading Roman Catholics suggest that popes should retire at 75.

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