Iraq's 12,000-page arms declaration fails to clear up important questions about biological and chemical weapons programs, including 6,000 missing poison-gas bombs, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to tell the Security Council at a meeting Thursday. According to UN sources, Blix, who gave a preliminary evaluation of the report last month, will repeat and expand his earlier criticism. In Iraq Wednesday, UN inspectors searched at least eight suspect sites, including the Saddam Medical College in Baghdad.

The European Union took its boldest step yet to avert war in Iraq, saying it would send a mediating mission to seven Arab nations in early February. As senior US military planners were moving to forward positions in the Gulf, Greece, currently holding the EU Presidency, said it would send its foreign minister, George Papandreou, to "moderate" Arab states.

Apparently stepping up its attempts to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, North Korea Wednesday called on the South to join it in stymying a US design to start a nuclear war. But South Korea's defense ministry instead called for a stronger alliance with the US and lauded the presence of US troops in the country. The ministry said the withdrawal of US forces could "throw the economy into turmoil and give North Korea a chance at provocation."

British police launched an urgent hunt for the deadly poison ricin after traces of the substance found in a suburban London apartment heightened fears of a chemical terror attack. Britain's antiterror police arrested a seventh suspect Wednesday, while the Department of Health put medical professionals on alert for possible poisoning cases.

Sri Lankan leaders and Tamil Tiger rebels made progress toward a peace settlement Wednesday amid fears that rival political parties might disrupt the process. Meeting in Thailand, the two sides agreed to appoint the World Bank as the custodian of international aid that Sri Lanka will receive for rebuilding areas ravaged by their 19-year civil war, chief government negotiator G.L. Peiris said.

Venezuelan bank workers called a work stoppage in support of the month-old general strike against embattled President Hugo Chávez that has paralyzed the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter. The two-day walkout will start Thursday, said Jose Torres, president of the Fetrabanca umbrella group of bank unions. Banks are already only opening three hours a day - a management decision - and citizens stand in line for hours outside before they open.

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