The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslims would drop his demand for a national election to choose a new parliament if it is decided that such a vote isn't feasible, an aide said. But he said Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani wants to hear possible alternatives to an election as well as a consensus from UN and other experts after they've sampled public opinion all over Iraq. His opposition to the US proposal that parliament be chosen by regional caucuses so that the nation can become self-governing by July 1 has thrown the plan and the timetable into serious doubt.

"I am not about to resign. I stress: I am not about to resign," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a leading Israeli newspaper as prosecutors considered whether to indict him in a burgeoning corruption scandal. Sharon and his son, Gilad, were alleged recipients of $690,000 in bribes from a real-estate developer in 1999; the developer was indicted by a court Wednesday. A new opinion poll found 49 percent of respondents saying the prime minister should quit, although there's precedent in Israel for political leaders holding on to power despite their perceived roles in scandals.

The first formal talks between senior Indian government officials and leaders of the separatist movement in Kashmir appeared to yield more results than had been expected. The two sides emerged from 2-1/2 hours of meetings to announce that the separatists agreed all violence in the disputed region should stop - a significant development because some have close ties to the most hardened rebels fighting for Kashmiri independence. In return, the government committed Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to a meeting today with the separatists. More talks also were agreed to, in March.

Sales were brisk for the only independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe one day after the nation's highest court ordered that it be allowed to resume publishing. But the government was appealing the order, and although police withdrew from facilities of the Daily News in Harare, they did not return all of its computers, its subscription list, and other property. The paper is a critic of hard-line President Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile, neither Mugabe nor opposition leaders were commenting on a report that he agreed to formal negotiations with them on resolving Zimbabwe's deep political and economic crises.

Unidentified assailants shot to death a leading opponent of Cambodia's prime minister as he visited a newsstand in Phnom Penh. Chea Vichea was president of the Free Trade Union and the fourth close affiliate or member of the Sam Rainsy Party to be assassinated in recent weeks. The party refuses to join the coalition government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. His People's Party won last year's bitterly contested national election, but by too few votes to govern alone.

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