The proposed visit by Secretary of State Powell to Syria for discussions with President Bashar Assad would be welcome, the foreign ministry said. It said such a visit would be preferable to trading accusations through the news media about harboring wanted Iraqi fugitives or banned weapons. The ministry also said Syria wished to help make the Middle East "free of weapons of mass destruction." But Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said his government would refuse to admit UN inspectors who'd search for such weapons.

Support for President Bush's proposed ending of economic sanctions against Iraq came from European Union leaders. Meeting in Athens, they endorsed the idea that Bush raised Wednesday, although French President Jacques Chirac said "it's up to the UN to define how." But Russia, which has a Security Council veto, warned it would not automatically agree to lift sanctions until all conditions in UN resolutions on Iraq's banned weapons are fulfilled.

Political tensions were running high in Nigeria for Saturday's vote for president, even as the nation awaited a report from the elections commission on the fairness of last weekend's legislative balloting. The commission, however, ruled out nullification of that vote because of fraud, as demanded by opposition leaders. Despite still-incomplete returns, the commission said the ruling People's Democratic Party had won majorities in both houses of the legislature. The chief rival of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who's seeking a new four-year term, warned of "mass action" if there's evidence that Saturday's vote was being rigged.

Alarm rose over the effects of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) on both human health and the Asian economy as India reported its first case and authorities in China said the illness has spread to a Muslim-dominated western region. The Beijing government defended its handling of the problem, insisting it was being dealt with responsibly. Asian leaders scheduled an April 29 meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss tackling the virus, which is blamed for at least 166 deaths worldwide.

By a four-vote margin, the UN Human Rights Commission called on Cuba to admit a special monitor for a review of personal freedoms there. But the Castro regime already has rejected such a visit. The commission overwhelmingly voted down an expression of "deep concern about the recent detention, summary prosecution, and harsh sentencing" of political dissidents on the island.

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