President Vladimir Putin of Russia inserted himself back into Ukraine's political crisis, sharply criticizing calls for another runoff election between Prime Minister Viktor Yanu-kovich and opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko. With hard-line Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at his side, Putin also warned Western leaders not to interfere in the situation, except as mediators between Yanu-kovich and Yuschenko. Putin has declared his backing for Yanukovich. Kuchma, who hand-picked Yanukovich, flew to Moscow to seek support after parliament voted no-confidence in the prime minister's government. Meanwhile, Ukraine's Supreme Court was in its fourth day of deliberations over Yuschenko's appeal of the disputed Nov. 21 runoff.

His coalition government in shambles, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he'd try a new appeal to the opposition Labor Party as well as to ultra- Orthodox parties to join him in a "broad and stable" replacement. He also pledged that the Israeli Defense Forces would not initiate new attacks against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or West Bank as long as "there is quiet" and said he hoped for talks with the new Palestinian leadership after the Jan. 9 election. Sharon ousted his junior coalition partner, the Shinui Party, earlier this week after it voted against his proposed 2005 budget.

Islamic Jihad became the latest Palestinian militant organization to announce it will boycott the Jan. 9 election, following the lead of Hamas Wednesday. Ten candidates, led by jailed militant leader Marwan Barghouti and by presumed front-runner Mohamad Abbas, have been approved as candidates to succeed the late Yasser Arafat.

An urgent UN Security Council meeting was called for Thursday amid reports by peacekeepers in eastern Congo of incursions by Rwandan Army troops. If verified, the incursions would be consistent with Rwandan President Paul Kagame's threat of "surgical strikes" against Hutu rebels who use Congo as a refuge. An identical mission in 1998 triggered a regional war that lasted five years, sucked in five other nations, and resulted in millions of deaths.

The capital of Haiti writhed in new violence as Secretary of State Powell ended a visit Wed-nesday aimed at promoting calm. Seven inmates of the national penitentiary died and scores of others were hurt in a riot that authorities said may have been triggered by leaked information of an impending transfer. Many of the prisoners are supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Meanwhile, gunfire erupted in a neighborhood of Aristide backers in Port-au-Prince, killing four other people. Even as Powell was arriving at the National Palace Wednesday for meetings with senior government officials, guards outside exchanged fire with a gunman in a passing car. No one was hurt.

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