In a massive display of defiance, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese packed central Beirut to demand nothing less than a total Syrian withdrawal from their country, the firing of Syrians in their security services, and an international inquiry into the assassination a month ago of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria is widely blamed for Hariri's death. The huge rally came one day after another demonstration called by Hizbullah, the pro-Syrian militant organization, and analysts said it was necessary for the opponents of Syria to regain their momentum. Syrian troops are expected to complete the first stage of a pullout from Lebanon later this week. Meanwhile, Gen. Michel Aoun, another ex-prime minister, announced he will return from exile in France "in the next weeks" to try to reconcile the two camps before Lebanon's national election in May.

A last-minute deal that would give ethnic Kurds the presidency of Iraq appeared all but complete as the nation's various political interests tried to cobble together a coalition government before parliament meets for the first time Wednesday. Barring an unexpected change, Kurdish leader Jalan Talibani would assume the largely ceremonial post of head of state while the chief of the Shiite majority alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, would take the prime ministership.

By a 2,896-to-0 vote, the National People's Congress in China OK'd new legislation authorizing the use of force if rival Taiwan makes any attempt to assert its independence. Lawmakers in the island nation blasted the measure as "savage" and the cause of "emotional pain to the Taiwanese people," but Chinese Premier Wen Jibao said it was aimed at peace, not war. The Bush administration called the legislation "unfortunate," but Wen told a news conference that China feared no one in its aim of reunification with Taiwan.

A standoff between police SWAT team members and Islamist inmates at a prison in Manila became another in a series of embarrassments for the Philip- pines government. The standoff began when suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group killed three guards, wounded others, and took hostages in a failed attempt to escape. They then pledged to surrender in exchange for guarantees of safety, but reneged and were refusing to disarm. Two previous escapes by Islamist prisoners have been successful, and prosecutors said that they had warned of this attempt, only to be ignored.

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