A veteran Army commander who led large-scale offensives against Palestinian militants accepted Ariel Sharon's offer to become Israel's new defense minister. The promotion of Shaul Mofaz came as Prime Minister Sharon worked to forge a new coalition government – likely with hawkish right-wing parties – after the pullout Wednesday of the Labor Party. Sharon was quoted as saying he had "no intention of initiating" a new national election because of his government's collapse.

"A bit of progress" in the UN Security Council on the wording of a new resolution on disarming Iraq was being claimed by British government officials. They said "we are looking at next week now" for adoption of a compromise that would be acceptable to potential veto-wielders France, Russia, and China. But in Washington Wednesday, Secretary of State Powell said the Bush administration would not be "handcuffed" by the Security Council and would regard Iraqi refusal to comply with weapons inspections as "an immediate red line" that could provoke a US military response.

The "suspension" of contact by the Irish Republican Army with the disarmament commission that's supposed to oversee the surrender of weapons by both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland was seen as a negotiating ploy by senior political leaders. The IRA said its five-year-old "complete cessation of military operations remains intact." But it accused the British government of issuing "untenable ultimatums" since taking back control the province's affairs last month. The IRA has made the same move before, and British officials called it regrettable but predictable. The statement came hours before Britain's new secretary for Northern Ireland met with a delegation from Sinn Fein, the IRA's political ally and a former partner in the province's self-rule government.

Signs pointed to a likely high voter turnout Sunday for Turkey's critical parliamentary election. Less certain was its likely outcome. To qualify for seats in the legislature, a party must win at least 10 percent of the ballots, and several were below that level in late opinion polls. Political observers said the year-old Justice and Development Party appeared on course to win a majority, drawing on widespread disillusionment over the economy. But it has had to deny having militant Islamist leanings, and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is banned from becoming prime minister because of his conviction and jail term for sedition.

Rescuers raced to try to free children and teachers trapped under the collapsed roof of their kindergarten after a 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck south-central Italy. Early reports said at least three children died and eight others were critically hurt.

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