Iraq's largest creditor is ready to forgive more than half of the $8 billion in debt run up under Saddam Hussein, senior members of the interim Governing Council were told. In a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, they said he also hinted at unspecified "further help" if postwar reconstruction contracts were awarded to Russian companies. Last week, French and German leaders also said they support US efforts to ease the estimated $120 billion Iraqi debt burden. Japan, to which Iraq owes $7.7 billion in loan repayments and penalties, has yet to commit to reducing that burden. But special US envoy James Baker, on a mission from President Bush to negotiate such reductions, is due in Tokyo Sunday.

The first visit to Israel in more than two years by Egypt's most senior diplomat yielded a pledge from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that his security forces would react favorably to a Palestinian militant cease-fire. Sharon reportedly told Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher (r.), "We will respond to quiet with quiet."

Two Egyptian efforts to mediate a truce have failed so far, although Maher is expected to resume them next week in the West Bank. But in a possible indication of how that attempt might go, he and members of his party had to be rushed by bodyguards out of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem after Muslim extremists screamed and threw shoes at them as they prayed. They were taken to an Israeli hospital for medical attention.

Approval appeared all but certain for an amendment to China's Constitution that aims to protect private property rights for the first time since the communist revolution of 1949. The amendment language went before the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Monday, with the endorsement of the Communist Party. Reports said party leaders agreed with lobbyists from the nation's entrepreneurial class that such protection is essential to economic growth, which already has lifted millions of people out of poverty.

Under prodding by their new chief, rebel leaders in Ivory Coast announced they'll rejoin the reconciliation government they quit in September. Rebel sources said cabinet ministers would return to their duties Friday. The government functioned only for two months before the rebel pullout on grounds that President Laurent Gbagbo had strayed from the peace accord that put it in place. The country remains divided between the rebel-controlled north and the south, which is in the hands of government forces.

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