The UN joined the ranks of international organizations pulling their non-Iraqi staffs out of Baghdad as leaflets appeared on the streets calling for a general strike beginning Saturday. The leaflets bore the name of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, but their authenticity could not immediately be verified. A UN spokeswoman said the withdrawal was temporary and for the purpose of "consultations on the future of our operation." On Wednesday, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders said they were reducing their staffing in Iraq because of security concerns.

The second-ranking member of China's Communist Party won agreement from North Korea for another round of six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program if they lead to "a package solution," the news agencies of both countries said. They provided no further details, but the announcement came as the North characterized its nuclear standoff with the US as reaching "an unpredictably difficult phase." An initial round of talks ended inconclusively in August. Against that backdrop, the UN's World Food Program issued an urgent appeal for donations, saying it doesn't know when the North will be able to survive without them.

The criminal case against Russia's wealthiest man took a dramatic new turn as prosecutors seized control of Yukos, his giant oil company. The move appeared to be without precedent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and sent the company's share price on the Moscow stock exchange into a further drop. Yukos stock already had lost more than 30 percent of its value since tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested for fraud and tax evasion last weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin invited other business leaders and foreign investors to a meeting in the Kremlin Thursday, apparently to try to ease concerns that a government purge was under way.

A tough-talking former home secretary emerged as the front-runner to head Britain's opposition Conservative Party. Michael Howard assumed that role after party members ousted Iain Duncan Smith in a secret ballot Wednesday and other senior figures chose not to challenge for the post. Howard was expected to announce his willingness to serve late Thursday. But analysts doubted his ability to oust Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party in the next general election, which must be held by early 2005.

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