Breaking his silence, Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric demanded that armed supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr end their resistance in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and withdraw. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose own office was caught in a firefight with US troops, also urged other Iraqis not to go to those cities to join Sadr's militia. Meanwhile, results of a new national opinion poll found 61 percent of respondents saying ex-dictator Saddam Hussein should be put to death if found guilty at his trial.

Stunning the nation, the leader of India's Congress Party announced she would not serve as prime minister. "My responsibility at this critical time is to provide ... strong and stable" government, Sonia Gandhi said. At the news, India's leading stock index reversed the largest one-day plunge in its history with its second-largest gain. Although her party won the crucial parliamentary election last week and although she's the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, there were increasing signs in recent days that her Italian birth would be an insurmountable obstacle to assuming the post. Speculation centered on former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh as the top choice for the prime ministership.

At least 16 Palestinians were killed in Israel's most massive raid in the Gaza Strip in years, an assault on a refugee camp that Army chief Moshe Yaalon said had become "a gateway for terror." Israeli forces already have demolished about 100 houses in the Rafah camp and Yaalon said hundreds more would be torn down to keep his troops safe from snipers and to thwart the digging of tunnels into Egyptian territory through which weapons can be smuggled.

A state of emergency was declared in the restive region of central Nigeria, where almost 1,000 people have died in a new wave of fighting between Muslims and Christians. The announcement by President Olusegun Obasanjo also involved the suspension of the governor of Plateau state and other public officials for "wittingly and unwittingly" encouraging subversion of the peace. If allowed to persist, "the crisis will engulf the entire nation," which has roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, Obasanjo said.

Leading experts dealt a new blow to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, recommending to Russian President Putin that he reject it as lacking scientific basis. Participants in a Russian Academy of Sciences seminar also called the 1997 treaty "discriminatory" against their country and its hopes for economic growth. Ratification by Russia is crucial since the US and other key nations have rejected the pact and 55 governments must sign on for it to take effect. Putin's economic adviser also has recommended rejection.

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