The number of weapons inspectors in Iraq rose to 113, and the pace of their searches picked up, but the International Atomic Energy Agency said it would need months to "come to a conclusion" on the veracity of the Baghdad government's report to the UN. Meanwhile, in London, 300 Iraqi dissidents were winding up a conference on planning an interim government if Saddam Hussein is ousted. Despite few signs of unity, its leaders said they'd produce a representative committee to ensure that Iraq was not left without sovereignty "for one single day."

A massive antigovernment rally in Venezuela's capital late Saturday was followed by the failure of authorities to replace the striking crew of an oil tanker - two more signs that pressure on leftist President Hugo Chávez to resign may be reaching the boiling point. Hundreds of thousands of his political opponents jammed an eastern section of Caracas in the largest demonstration since the nationwide general strike began Dec. 2. Still, the embattled president rejected a US call that he schedule an early election. The US is the largest buyer of Venezuela's oil.

Over the angry objections of Palestinians, Israel's Cabinet barred Yasser Arafat from attending the traditional Christmas Eve religious service in Bethlehem for the second straight year. Although a Muslim, Arafat had made it a practice to attend the Christian service.

Arafat also "ordered" Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden stop "hiding behind the Palestinian cause." He told the Sunday Times (London) that bin Laden "never helped us" and has worked in "a completely different area against our interests." Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for two attacks on Israeli tourists in Kenya last month, and Israel has said the terrorist organization operates cells in Palestinian areas of the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Jordanian police arrested two Al Qaeda suspects for the Oct. 28 murder of US aid official Laurence Foley. In Karachi, Pakistan, police said they're trying to establish a connection between Al Qaeda and three men arrested for plotting to ram a carload of explosives into the vehicle of US consular officials.

In a landslide victory, the governing party of India's Gujarat state took all but 57 of 182 parliamentary seats in an election held amid a climate of deep sectarian tensions. A curfew was imposed in one city after Muslims threw bricks at celebrating supporters of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The worst rioting in a decade killed more than 1,000 people in Gujarat earlier this year as Muslims fought with Hindus.

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