From Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on down, US officials were unwilling to confirm claims that Saddam Hussein's former top deputy had been killed or captured in Iraq. But a member of the interim Governing Council and a senior Kurdish leader both said their reports indicated that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, suspected of guiding the resistance to coalition forces, was the object of a successful and "very big military operation" in the northern city of Kirkuk. Other than Hussein, al-Douri is the most senior official of the former regime still at large, and the US offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.

In two new blows to the controversial Kyoto global-warming treaty, a senior adviser to Russian President Putin said his government won't ratify it and a European Union report indicated that member states are failing by a wide margin to meet emissions targets. Andrei Illarionov, who counsels Putin on economic matters, said the protocol "in its present form" is unacceptable to Russia because compliance would "place serious limits on the country's growth." Meanwhile, the EU report said existing climate- control measures in the 15-member bloc would lower greenhouse gas emissions by only 0.5 percent instead of the agreed-upon 8 percent.

Despite an ultimatum to get out of the way of government forces by Tuesday night, UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast - led by France - appeared determined to stay in place. The French Foreign Ministry said there was no consideration of a withdrawal from cease-fire lines as demanded by supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo so his troops can renew an offensive against rebel forces. Tensions have risen as internationally brokered peace and power-sharing deals between the government and the rebels hit a stalemate.

A referendum next year - if one is held - will aim at further promoting democracy rather than a declaration of independence, an aide to Taiwan's leader said. He spoke as the mainland Chinese government warned that President Chen Shui-bian and "extremists" on Taiwan were playing a "very dangerous" and "provocative" game by discussing a possible sovereignty vote when the island holds its national elections in March. The US has asked both sides to do nothing that would change the status quo in the region.

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