Another terrorist bomb blast killed at least eight people and wounded 32 others outside a senior Shiite Muslim cleric's office in the Iraqi city of Kerbala. It came on the first day of campaigning for the crucial Jan. 30 election - and as Defense Minister Hazim al-Shaalan was bitterly accusing neighboring Iran and Syria of providing aid and intelligence support to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced his candidacy and Sunni Muslim elder Adnan Pachachi, who had advocated postponing the election, said he'd also be a candidate.

By a 407-to-262 vote, the European Parliament called on its member states to open negotiations with Turkey as soon as possible for full membership in the European Union. The effort also was aided by new European Commission President José Manuel Barroso of Portugal, who said, "I believe this is the moment." EU heads of state are scheduled to meet Friday in Brussels to consider the matter. Turkey's human rights record and relative lack of economic development have held back its bid to join the 25-member bloc, and the parliamentary resolution urges the Ankara government to adopt a "zero- tolerance" policy on the use of torture by authorities and to acknowledge Turkey's role in the 1915-1923 genocide against ethnic Armenians.

Television viewers across Greece were gripped by live coverage of a day-long hostage drama as the Monitor went to press. At last report, two gunmen who commandeered the vehicle on the outskirts of Athens were demanding a $1 million ransom and a plane to fly them to Russia. The bus was surrounded by police and special forces troops, although the hijackers, believed to be Albanians, were threatening to blow it up, along with 14 passengers. Ten others, among them the driver and ticket collector, were freed or escaped in the early moments of the takeover.

Two more Buddhists - one of them an ice cream vendor - were shot to death by suspected Islamist militants in southern Thailand in the second straight day of such attacks. Another ice cream seller was wounded in a drive-by shooting. Against that backdrop, the Thai government opened a temporary employment program for up to 70,000 southern Muslims to help offset an expected major eruption of violence early next month on the first anniversary of the start of the current trouble.

One of two brothers who argued aboard a bus in Zimbabwe's capital will spend Christmas in jail for saying, "Don't be thickheaded, like Mugabe." The dispute was overheard by a secret police agent, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported. Invoking hard-line President Robert Mugabe's name as an insult is a crime under the nation's sweeping security law.

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