Forty-one more members of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia died in a gunbattle with US troops on the outskirts of Najaf, Iraq. In a separate action, the Americans ratcheted up the pressure on Sadr by seizing the provincial governor's office there, and the chief US administrator quickly appointed a replacement for that post. But in Baghdad, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a car bomb explosion outside the US headquarters that killed one soldier and five Iraqi civilians and wounded 25 others.

Jubilant crowds gave a hero's welcome to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili as he arrived in the capital of Ajaria Province Thursday, hours after his bitter rival went into exile, ending their tense standoff. Saakashvili said he'd place Ajaria under presidential rule until it can elect its new leader. Aslan Abashidze, who headed for Moscow accompanied by former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, had led the province for 14 years.

There will be little or no retreat after all in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, aides said. If anything, national security chief Giora Eiland said, the revised plan will be more far-reaching than the one rejected in a referendum among members of the ruling Likud Party. Sharon said at the time he'd draw up an alternative proposal. But Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said the emphasis now will be to "create a mechanism" that will win the approval denied in last weekend's vote. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat's guards surrounded his West Bank compound with junked cars and barrels filled with concrete - a move senior Israelis called a "publicity stunt."

A new strain in relations opened between the European Union and Libya only a week after the latter's leader paid an historic goodwill visit to the bloc's headquarters in Brussels. Senior EU officials reacted angrily to - and demanded a reversal of - the death sentences pronounced by a Libyan court for six Bulgarian medical personnel convicted of deliberately infecting patients with the AIDS virus. Bulgaria is a candidate for EU membership. Libyan defendants in the case were acquitted. The verdicts can be appealed to Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi.

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