As many as 50,000 protesters packed Hong Kong's business district to demand the resignation of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and direct elections. Public disaffection with the Beijing-backed government is said to be at a boiling point over a deeply unpopular antisubversion bill and economic troubles magnified by the recent outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

North Korea has reprocessed spent nuclear-fuel rods and tested devices that could be used to trigger atomic blasts, South Korea's intelligence agency told a parliamentary committee. Both would represent key steps in developing nuclear weapons. The reprocessing involved only a small number of the estimated 8,000 spent fuel rods at the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility, the agency said. Its report came as a North Korean delegation arrived in Seoul for talks aimed at promoting reconciliation and economic ties.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas threatened to quit and resigned a senior post in Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement Tuesday in a deepening dispute over his handling of peace negotiations with Israel. Fellow Palestinian leaders reportedly are angry at the limited number of prisoners Israel agreed to free in the wake of a temporary cease-fire declared by three main militant groups, among them a Fatah wing. As a gesture of support for Abbas, the Bush administration was expected to announce the first direct US assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

In a bitter exchange over Iraqi intelligence, British Prime Minister Tony Blair denied misleading Parliament when challenged to issue an apology for doing so by the leader of the opposition Conservative Party. "I do not accept that Parliament was misled in any way at all," Blair told Iain Duncan Smith. A recent parliamentary report faulted the government's choice of sources on Iraqi weapons, which included a graduate-student's thesis. In Iraq meanwhile, the US military said it arrested an ex-interior minister and a high-ranking Baath Party official, bringing to 34 its tally of the 55 most-wanted supporters of the former regime.

Backing down on their vows to defy a government ban, Iranian student leaders called off widely anticipated protests to mark the anniversary of the July 9, 1999 beatings of reform demonstrators by pro-regime militias. The country's hardline Islamic rulers detained at least 4,000 people amid occasionally violent rallies last month and had vowed to respond harshly to any further unrest. Following the announcement, three student organizers were seized by armed men with the trademark beards of pro-government vigilantes. "We cannot call it arrest. It was a kidnapping," said student leader Matin Meshkini.

Some 400 passengers are believed drowned after an overloaded ferry sank 100 miles southeast of Dhaka, Bangladesh late Tuesday. Survivors, numbering about 200, told police the vessel was carrying at least 600 people - twice capacity.

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