Dozens of mortar shells containing a chemical agent were found hidden in a road- construction project in southern Iraq Saturday by Danish and Icelandic troops. But a US commander said they apparently were left over from the war with Iran that ended in 1988. Meanwhile, five people died and dozens more were hurt in a bomb explosion as they left a Shiite Muslim service in the city of Baquoba. A more powerful bomb was defused by police earlier outside another mosque in Baquoba. The incidents raised concern of strife between Shiites and rival Sunni Muslims.

Secret contacts between Israel and its bitter neighbor Syria "seven or eight months ago" were confirmed by the Jewish state. But Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said they ended when word of them leaked. Syrian President Bashar Assad has said recently that he's ready to resume peace talks with Israel at the point where they left off in 2000, although Israel has not responded positively, demanding that the Damascus government first crack down on Palestinian militants operating on Syrian soil.

A new political furor erupted in Iran as thousands of candidates for next month's parliamentary election were disqualified by the hard-line Muslim clerics who run the country. All are would-be reformers of the rigid system under which Iran has been governed since 1979. Some already are in parliament but were blocked from seeking new terms. Several legislators staged a sit-in Sunday in protest. President Mohamad Khatami, nominally a reformer, called the ruling by the Guardian Council "senseless" and said he'd appeal to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say. Sources said the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by reformers, might ignore the Guardian Council and print the names of those disqualified on the ballot anyway.

Acting on an informant's tip, NATO troops searched a church, a hospital, and private homes in Pale, Bosnia, Sunday for the most-wanted fugitive from the Balkans war era, Radovan Karadzic. But the ex-Serb leader wasn't there or again eluded capture, and the mission commander said checkpoints on the roads out of the town would remain at least until noon today. Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, were indicted for genocide by the UN tribunal for the Balkans in 1996.

The editor and two reporters for a leading weekly newspaper in Zimbabwe faced the possibility of two years in prison for a story that the information ministry said "insulted" President Robert Mugabe. Last week's issue of The Independent said Mugabe had ordered a plane from Air Zimbabwe diverted from a scheduled flight to London to take him, his family, and aides on a vacation to Asia.

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