Shiite Muslims staged another mass march in Baghdad to call for the execution of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, but their numbers were far smaller than those Monday. The protest came as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was considering whether to send his representatives back to Iraq to examine the feasibility of direct elections to parliament this spring - as demanded by Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - or a viable alternative. Annan's decision is expected in about a week. Representatives of Iraq's interim Governing Council, after meeting with Annan Monday, said the ayatollah would "respect" conclusions reached by the UN if an alternative to direct elections can be found.

US military authorities rejected claims that an airstrike in south-central Afghanistan last weekend killed 11 civilians, four of them children. A spokesman said noncombatants were not targeted and that the raid in Uruzgan Province was aimed at "five armed adult males" identified as "midlevel" Taliban leaders. The province is a hotbed of Taliban activity. But one provincial official insisted the casualties were civilians and accused US forces of poor communication with local residents.

Two hundred candidates for parliament in Iran were told they may run after all after the hard-line Guardian Council disqualified them last week. The council promised more reinstatements in time for next month's election, although critics called the gesture "not sufficient." The candidates - all calling themselves reformers of Iran's rigid political system - were among thousands rejected by the council on grounds that they lack dedication to Islam. The move prompted a sit-in by dissidents in parliament and a request by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the decision be "reviewed." Above, a candidate who remains blacklisted prays in a Tehran mosque.

Peace efforts took a new hit in Sri Lanka with the formation of an alliance between President Chandrika Kumaratunga's political party and a Marxist group - both opposed to an accord with the island nation's Tamil rebels. In a statement, they said Kumaratunga's bitter rivals - Prime Minister Ranil Wickreme-singhe and his United National Front - "should be defeated at the earliest possible time" because of his overtures to the Tamil Tiger movement. Analysts said the move would anger the Tamils, and within hours two Marxists were killed as they put up outdoor decorations to celebrate the alliance.

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