The first attempt at discussing Iraq's political future appeared to get off to a halting start as key participants opted not to attend a US-sponsored organizational meeting. A spokesman for the exiled Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq told journalists, "We cannot be part of a process which is under an American general." Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi also boycotted the session, and his spokesman told the BBC that opposition leaders planned to hold their own meeting because "Iraqis must rule Iraq."

Spurning US pressure, Syria's government angrily rejected allegations that the nation is developing chemical weapons or harboring fugitive Iraqi leaders. In a statement, President Bashar al-Assad's Cabinet called such claims "threats and falsifications" and "a service to [Israel's] expansive greed." Meanwhile, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted that such claims should be addressed in the Security Council within the provisions of the UN Charter.

A high-level conference on security for Saturday's presidential election in Nigeria was under way amid concerns that the violence surrounding last weekend's parliamentary voting would erupt again. Although returns were not yet complete Tuesday, incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party appeared headed for majorities in both houses. But at least 24 people were reported killed, and the Electoral Commission said voting in five races would have to be rescheduled because of violence. Obasanjo is seeking a new four-year term against 19 challengers.

The question of independence for the only French-speaking province in Canada was put on indefinite hold as voters ousted the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) after nine years in power. Almost-complete returns from Monday's voting gave the opposition Liberal Party 76 of the 125 seats in Quebec's legislature, to 45 for the PQ. Had the PQ retained power, it was believed likely to seek a new referendum on sovereignty within three years.

Angry supporters of assassinated Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn jeered and booed as a trial court in Amsterdam sentenced his confessed killer to 18 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a life term for environmental activist Volkert van der Graaf, who told the court he shot Fortuyn nine days before last May's national election to stop him from gaining power and implementing an anti-immigration agenda.

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