US administrator Paul Bremer was headed home from Baghdad for consultations at the White House and with the UN after encountering increased resistance to the timetable for Iraqis to take control of their own affairs. Reports said the transition target date, July 1, is under new review in light of demands by Iraq's senior Shiite Muslim cleric for direct elections to parliament instead of legislators being appointed by regional councils. In Basra, Iraq's No. 2 city, Thursday, tens of thousands of Shiites marched in support of their leader's demand. The president of the interim Governing Council said the dispute "means we may end up keeping the occupation for another two years and keeping [Bremer's coalition authority] for another two years."

The new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority refused to condemn Wednesday's terrorist-bomb attack by a mother at the Eretz border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The bomber killed herself and four Israelis. Ahmed Qureia, in his first such situation since being named to the post last year, said continued Israeli restrictions on the Palestinians and the targeting of militant leaders cause "more escalations on both sides." After the explosion, Israel closed all crossings into the Gaza Strip, saying only on humanitarian grounds would Palestinians be permitted to pass. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also did not rule out targeted strikes in retaliation at "those planning or setting in motion acts of murder."

Iran's supreme leader ordered the disqualification of thousands of candidates for seats in parliament to be reconsidered by the hard-liners who rejected them last weekend. The move by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will cause the senior government officials who prepared letters of resignation to "drop their threats," a colleague predicted. But dozens of legislators staging a sit-in in parliament over the issue said they wouldn't call it off until all candidates disqualified by the Guardian Council are reinstated.

Twelve people were hurt and property damage was heavy after terrorists exploded a car bomb outside a Christian Bible society center in Karachi, Pakistan. The attack was the latest in a series against Christian targets in the mostly Muslim nation, but the first to be reported in months. The city has endured many incidents of sectarian violence in recent years, although most of it has involved rival Muslim groups. The attack contrasted with the resumption - after two years - of passenger-train service between Pakistan and India, another in a series of recent moves between the nuclear rivals to edge closer to peace.

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