Anguished Italians clung to hope that two of their countrywomen held hostage by terrorists in Iraq had not been executed, despite claims to the contrary. Nor was there further word, as the Monitor went to press, on the fate of British captive Kenneth Bigley, whose family was imploring Prime Minister Blair to meet the demands that would spare his life. But Britain and the US repeated their insistence that they'd not give in to terrorist demands. Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was addressing a joint session of Congress in the US Thursday, but his government said it would not allow the release of female prisoners as demanded by the terrorists. Allawi also promised that Iraq's elections would be held on schedule in January.

Intelligence gathered by the US and Japan appeared to point to preparations for a ballistic missile test-firing by North Korea. Government sources in Tokyo said they expected the launch, although not necessarily imminent, could involve a missile capable of reaching anywhere in Japan. North Korea fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and has tested at least three of shorter range since then. The North's government did not comment on the speculation but accused the US of choosing Japan as a "strategic vantage point" from which to "hurl" a preemptive strike onto its soil.

The wheels were expected to begin turning early next month on membership in the European Union for Turkey after the Ankara government gave assurances Thursday that it won't seek to criminalize adultery. Such a guarantee had been the EU's final condition to opening negotiations on joining the bloc. In a joint news conference in Brussels with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, senior EU commissioner Guenter Verheugen said, "There are no more obstacles on the table now," since all other criteria already had been met. If, as expected, Turkey receives a favorable review of its status Oct. 6, membership talks could begin early next year.

Mass graves were being dug in Haiti for those who died in flooding from tropical storm Jeanne even as emergency crews discovered hundreds more human remains. The casualty count rose to 1,070, and authorities said it could reach 2,000. The cleanup task, made worse by the heat, was so urgent that there was little effort to identify the victims and no funerals were being held.

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