Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a surprise and heavily guarded visit to Iraq, thanked US troops and diplomats Sunday for taking risks to help Iraqis build a new nation. Rice flew to Baghdad to meet with the senior leadership of Iraq's newly elected government to offer support and ask how the US can be most useful, she said. Before those sessions, Rice addressed soldiers and US embassy employees in the fortified Green Zone. The first stop of her one-day trip was Salahuddin, in Kurdish northern Iraq, where she urged patience for the fragile new government and said Iraqis can overcome a recent surge of violence.

Turnout was high Sunday as Ethiopian voters chose between the ruling coalition that ended a brutal dictatorship in 1991 and new opposition parties who promise greater liberalization. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has pledged to introduce greater democracy in the country of 70 million. Many have pointed to the parliamentary vote as a test of his commitment to reform a government that has sometimes shown authoritarian tendencies. Government officials denied allegations that it tried to rig the election.

Iran's parliament voted Sunday to oblige the government to develop a nuclear fuel cycle - an action opposed by Washington, which suspects the Islamic Republic is seeking to acquire atomic weapons. The vote will increase pressure on talks with France, Germany, and Britain. The EU trio persuaded Iran to suspend the fuel cycle last year to clear the way for talks, but Iranian officials frustrated with the sluggish pace of negotiations have threatened to restart nuclear development.

Uzbekistan on Sunday firmly rejected foreign criticism of its troops' suppression of an uprising in the east of the country, denying that the soldiers had opened fire on demonstrators. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said 10 government troops and "many more" protesters were killed. Residents who fled the region estimated the death toll to be 450.

A Saudi court on Sunday sentenced three reform campaigners to jail terms of up to nine years after convicting them of sowing dissent, disobeying their rulers, and sedition. The defendants are the last remaining detainees of 13 arrested in 2004 after openly criticizing the strict religious environment and slow pace of reform in the kingdom.

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