UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to countries to contribute aid for western Sudan as the humanitarian effort there faced a $191 million shortfall, a spokeswoman said. The US, meanwhile, said it would consider changes to a UN draft resolution on Sudan, but insisted that the threat of sanctions must be clear.

Amid new violence, the Iraqi national conference has been postponed for two weeks from its original start date on Saturday, a conference spokesman said Thursday. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also appeared with US Secretary of State Colin Powell to voice support for a Saudi-led initiative under which Muslim countries would contribute to a new force that would help bring stability to Iraq. Meanwhile, violence in Iraq continued as an insurgent group kidnapped a Somali truck driver, threatening to behead him if his company doesn't pull out its workers.

The UN said Thursday that it will seek international aid to help Bangladesh flood victims recover from month-long floods that have killed 452 people. Torrential rains and melting Himalayan snow have engulfed two-thirds of Bangladesh and parts of neighboring India.

China has ordered an emergency shipment of coal to help ease energy shortages said to be the worst in two decades, state media reported Thursday. The shortfall of electricity is forecast to hit 30 million kilowatts, and has already caused major cities, such as Shanghai, to cut back on electrical use.

An Israeli helicopter fired missiles Thursday at a Palestinian car in the Gaza Strip, killing two militants belonging to a violent offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, witnesses said. One of the dead was identified as Amr Abu Suta, who Israel says was involved in the 1992 slaying of three Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

Mourners set up vigils outside the Chilean embassy in Costa Rica after a policeman killed himself and three hostages, ending a tense seven-hour standoff. Six other embassy employees were found safe, but hiding in the building.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling forest fires in Portugal amid fears of another inferno like the one that blackened the country last year. Officials say they are dispatching more military personnel to help fight fires that have burned four days.

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