Chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamad El Baradei will be greeted with a new Iraqi willingness to cooperate and to enter into negotiations when they return Saturday, the Baghdad government pledged. It said it would try to resolve all "technical issues" with UN search teams. Meanwhile, however, Vice President Tara Ramadan told a German magazine that "thousands of suicide attackers" would be set upon American targets - and "not only in Iraq" if the US invades.

Bowing to international pressure, strike organizers in Venezuela agreed to throttle down the two-month-old campaign this week. They were asked Friday to take the step by the recently formed six-nation "Group of Friends" to keep affected businesses from going bankrupt. In its place, the organizers began an announced petition drive seeking - among other goals - to cut leftist President Hugo Chávez's term from six years to four. Reports said thousands of Caracas residents were lined up at dawn to sign.

Tensions were ratcheting still higher in Ivory Coast's largest city, with a new demonstration erupting on the heels of one Saturday that drew hundreds of thousands of protesters against a controversial peace accord. An aide to President Laurent Gbagbo said it was "inevitable" that the deal, brokered by France and giving rebellious Army troops control of key government ministries, would be renegotiated. But Gbagbo opponents in Abidjan were angered by the discovery of the execution-style death of a popular entertainer last seen in the custody of paramilitary forces.

Not even his outspoken opposition to war against Iraq appeared likely to spare German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democratic Party landslide defeats in two state elections Sunday. Hesse and Lower Saxony were Schröder's first tests at the polls since he narrowly won reelection in September, and voters were expected to punish him for raising taxes soon after. Analysts said a defeat in Lower Saxony would be especially bitter for him since he is its former governor.

Only a farewell speech to the nation remained on Czech President Vaclav Havel's schedule Sunday as he prepared to step down. The legendary playwright/politician is the last of eastern Europe's 1980s-era anticommunist dissidents to leave political office. His post will remain vacant until parliament chooses a successor, a duty it twice has failed to complete.

A powerful explosion of uncertain origin flattened a block of apartment buildings and tore the front off a bank in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital. Early estimates put the casualty count as high as 50 deaths, with many more people believed trapped under the rubble. Looters reportedly were searching for cash inside the ruined bank.

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