A "few tons" of the gas used in enriching uranium for nuclear weapons already have been produced by Iran since it admitted last month to resuming its processing program, a senior official said. The move is in defiance of demands by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that the Tehran government freeze all nuclear activity, but an IAEA spokeswoman said only that her agency was monitoring the conversion. On Tuesday, Iran boasted that its most advanced missiles now can fly up to 1,250 miles - putting targets in southern Europe and Israel within range of warheads.

Two more terrorist leaders died in an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip late Tuesday, but key political sources said the current offensive there could end within days, pending an assessment that it had successfully reduced Palestinians' ability to fire rockets at Jewish towns and settlements. Meanwhile, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Haaretz newspaper that the objective of Israel's plan to pull out of Gaza is the indefinite prevention of a Palestinian state.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt against interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai's running mate. A roadside bomb exploded as Ahmad Zia Masood's convoy passed en route to a campaign appearance in rural Badakhshan Province, missing him but killing another man and wounding five more. The attack came on the last day of campaigning for Saturday's historic national election. In his final campaign rally, in Kabul, Karzai told a crowd estimated at 4,000 people that - even if it meant he'd lose - he hoped they would vote for any of his opponents than not vote at all.

"A qualified yes" to negotiations for Turkish membership in the European Union was extended by the bloc's executive commission. But it said the talks, expected to begin in mid-2005, would be "open-ended" and could be suspended if the Ankara government backtracks on human rights or its commitment to democracy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey expects no "special treatment" from the EU and that he hoped for the talks at "the beginning" of the year.

The number of decapitated men in Haiti's capital rose to four as loyalists of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide carried their so-called "Operation Baghdad" offensive into another day. But in a belated response, police and UN peacekeepers, backed by helicopters, moved in on the Port-au-Prince slum blocked by the loyalists. They detained 500 "bandits" for questioning, but reportedly confiscated no weapons.

Hundreds of angry soldiers - some of them recently returned from peacekeeping duty - surrounded Army headquarters in Guinea Bissau's capital Wednesday, and gunfire was heard in the streets. Reports said the soldiers were seeking thousands of dollars each in back pay for serving with a UN multilateral force in Liberia. Impoverished Guinea Bissau has had three successful coups and an unsuccessful attempted coup in the last seven years.

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