Stopping just short of a veto threat, Russia's foreign minister said his government doesn't support any new UN resolution that would lead to war against Iraq. Igor Ivanov also told the BBC that Russia will not abstain from a vote in the Security Council that the US has vowed to seek "quite soon" after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report on Iraqi disarmament. Blix is due to speak Friday.

Calling President Bush "the despot of the century," Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said in a statement timed for the Islamic New Year that his forces "will be victorious" if the country is invaded by the US and its allies. Meanwhile, officials of his government were preparing a letter to the UN inspections regime purporting to prove that

Iraq has destroyed its stocks of anthrax and the nerve agent VX.

For its own security, Turkey will not be "an observer" if there is war with Iraq, ruling party leader Recep Tayypi Erdogan said. He told his party's members of parliament they "must" put the nation's interests before their own emotions if asked to vote again on the proposal to base 62,000 US troops there for war. Without saying his government would seek a new vote, he said "steps will be taken" pending a review of "internal and external developments." Turkey holds a parliamentary by-election this weekend, and its leaders have said they still await "some answers" from the US on the conditions attached to a basing deal.

At least 19 people died and 147 others were wounded in the explosion of a terrorist bomb at an airport in the southern Philippines. One of the dead and four of the injured were Americans. Suspicion fell immediately on Muslim separatists, although police said they had no suspects and there was no claim of responsibility. The blast went off as people sought shelter from a downpour in Davao, a predominantly Christian city.

The official news media of North Korea preferred to comment on the start of joint US-South Korean military exercises rather than on the shadowing of an American reconnaissance plane last weekend. They called the exercise "preparation for an attack" on the North that would engulf the Korean peninsula in "nuclear holocaust." Analysts said the interception of the plane in international airspace was part of a pattern of moves to pressure the US into bilateral negotiations on the North's chief goals: aid for its dilapidated economy and a nonaggression treaty. In a plea for more food donations for the North, the UN warned that existing stocks would be exhausted by June.

Embattled President Robert Kocharian was promising that today's runoff election in Armenia will be fair, despite allegations - supported by international monitors - that the first round of balloting Feb. 19 was tainted by fraud. Kocharian is widely expected to win a new five-year term over opposition People's Party leader Stepan Demirchian with little difficulty, although political observers warn of angry street demonstrations if that is the outcome.

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