In an effort to bring calm to an Iraq writhing in more violence, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi ordered a 24-hour cease-fire in Najaf and offered amnesty to the Mahdi militiamen of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Journalists, however, said they still could hear weapons fire in the troubled city. Against that backdrop, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the cleric most revered by Iraq's Shiites, and tens of thousands of volunteer followers arrived under heavy police guard for negotiations with Sadr's representatives on which side would control the Imam Ali Mosque, Shiite Islam's holiest shrine. But their arrival was harrowing. At least 10 of Sistani's followers were killed when unidentified gunmen fired on police assigned to crowd- control duty and the police fired back.

Before Sistani's convoy could reach Najaf, violence in nearby Kufa killed or wounded 389 people, authorities said. Mortar rounds fired by unknown persons fell on the city's main mosque, where Sadr supporters were gathered for their own march on Najaf, with early reports putting the number of dead at 25. At almost the same time, other unidentified assailants fired on marchers elsewhere in the city, with another 20 deaths reported.

Still earlier, saboteurs in southern Iraq targeted a cluster of pipelines, cutting the flow of vital crude oil exports by half, officials said. Estimates put the length of time necessary to repair the damage at three days.

With four days to go, negotiators for Sudan's government said they weren't "bothered" by a UN deadline to disarm Muslim militiamen or be subjected to possible economic sanctions. Speaking at peace talks sponsored by the African Union, a government minister said, "We will never compromise our national interests to that of any interest anywhere in the world." The UN ranks ongoing assaults on non-Muslims in Sudan's Darfur region by so-called Janjaweed fighters as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Non-Muslim Darfur rebels at the talks say they will not surrender their weapons until after a comprehensive deal is in place that includes the sharing of power in the region. Above, displaced Darfur women wait for distribution of food at a refugee camp.

Terrorism was back in play as the leading theory to explain the downing of two Russian commercial jets Wednesday, after their data recorders yielded no usable information on the causes, officials said. The crashes, hundreds of miles but only three minutes apart, killed all 89 people aboard.

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