"Independent monitors" such as the news media should accompany any UN teams sent to inspect Iraq's suspected weapons programs, the Baghdad government said. As the UN Security Council wrangled over the wording of a new resolution on disarming Iraq, the latter said it would not allow inspectors to be the sole source of information "because we don't trust them." The US, it said, would attempt to use the searches as a pretext for war.

For the second time in less than a week, North Korea's government rejected foreign demands that it scrap its nuclear weapons program. In high-level discussions with Japan on reestablishing diplomatic relations, the North's delegation blamed concern over the program on the US, which it said was "the root of the problem." Japan has said ending the nuclear program would be a precondition for normalized relations.

Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council cheered themselves after voting 56 to 18 to OK the nominees to Yasser Arafat's new cabinet. But the slate did not include a prime minister with whom Arafat would share power – a demand made by critics when his first cabinet resigned en masse rather than face certain rejection by the council. The demand was dropped after Israel's siege of his West Bank headquarters last month boosted support for Arafat among Palestinians.

A huge fire roared through a section of southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) where many foreign trading companies had their offices. At least 54 people were confirmed dead, with more than 100 others injured and an unknown number missing. Firefighters were limited in their response by inadequate equipment and too little water. The blaze was being called the worst in the city's history.

Its refusal to accept thousands of tons of genetically modified gift corn from the US stands, despite a deepening food shortage affecting almost 3 million people, Zambia's government said. The announcement confirmed a preliminary rejection based on the recommendation of Zambian scientists, who subsequently undertook a fact- finding mission on the matter to the US, Europe, and elsewhere. The Agriculture Ministry said the corn "might adversely affect human and animal health [and] harm the environment." The donated corn, already in government storage, will be withdrawn, the ministry said.

Under pressure from activists, the government of South Africa will propose to increase spending on the treatment of AIDS by $100 million in each of the next three years, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told the National Assembly. An estimated 4.7 million South Africans – 11 percent of the population – have tested positive for HIV, the virus believed to cause the disease. Experts on the subject say that is the highest rate in the world.

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