A new showdown was unfolding in central Iraq as government troops surrounded a town in which Sunni Muslims had taken dozens of rival Shiites hostage and were conducting raids to free the captives. Unconfirmed reports said as many as 150 women, children, and elderly men were kidnapped by masked Sunnis late last week and that the price for their release would be the evacuation of all other Shiites from Madain, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad.

A mainly Arab city near Iran's border with Iraq was reported calm Sunday after violent anti-government demonstrations. Western news agencies were unable to confirm claims that more than 30 people were killed and more than 300 others were arrested in Ahvaz. The trouble apparently erupted over rumors that Iran's government intended to displace residents by moving in non-Arabs.

Instead of the hoped-for cooling off, relations between China and Japan worsened despite the arrival of the latter's foreign minister in Beijing. For the second weekend in a row, anti-Japanese protests flared in Chinese cities even as the govern- ment pledged to contain them. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told his visiting countepart that China "has never done anything for which it has to apologize to the Japanese people ... [but] the Japanese government has done a series of things that have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." Japan's Nobutaka Machi-mura is expected to seek compensation Monday for damage to Japanese property in the protests.

A state of emergency imposed by Ecuadoran President Lucio Gutierrez was called off Saturday because, "Little by little, tranquility is returning." Gutierrez acted Friday night after thousands of protesters filled Quito, the capital, demanding his resignation for having fired the entire Supreme Court. He said in an address to the nation that he did so to end a deadlock with Congress over control of the judiciary.

Government forces and rebels in Ivory Coast agreed to back away from the dividing line between them on Thursday and to begin disarming May 14. They agreed that their civil war "is finished," and the rebels rejoined the power-sharing government Friday, ending a five-month boycott. Doubters noted, however, that both sides have failed to meet previous disarmament deadlines.

The 115 Roman Catholic cardinals who will vote for the next pope moved into sequestered lodging at the Vatican for Monday's start of the process. Reportedly, no names have been put forward as candidates for the papacy. The electors are expected to send smoke signals twice a day to show whether they've agreed on a successor to John Paul II.

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