A Filipino hostage was freed by his kidnapers in Iraq after eight months in captivity. His release contrasted with progress at a two-day international conference in Brussels on Iraq's future, in which the fledgling government won rhetorical support from the more than 80 nations and organizations attending, but few tangible offers of help. Iraqis had hoped for forgiveness of billions of dollars in debt accumulated under dictator Saddam Hussein. But the subject gained little traction and now appears unlikely to be taken up again until a donor conference set for next month in Jordan.

Targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorist leaders are being resumed, Israeli officials said, one day after the tense summit between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The officials also warned of harsh retaliation if Palestinians attack during the scheduled withdrawal in August from the Gaza Strip and said Israeli troops would be sent back into the area "after disengagement" if necessary. Israel halted the targeted killings in February, but tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to "intercept" an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza following mortar and rocket salvoes against Jewish settlements.

In a crucial runoff that will set the tone for future relations with the US and other Western governments, Iranian voters return to the polls Friday to choose their new president. The race between hard-line Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani is seen as tight. But one observer ratedd Ahmadinejad's prospects as "very high" because the two days allotted for campaigning gave Rafsanjani little time to attract enough new voters to put him over the top. An Ahmadinejad victory would leave hard-liners in total control of Iran's political and theocratic systems.

Defying President Alejandro Toledo, a regional government chief in Peru signed into law a measure legalizing unlimited cultivation of coca, the raw material in cocaine. In a ceremony attended by growers, he called coca "a local treasure." A Toledo aide said his administration was seeking clarification of the measure, but he appeared to back off from a threat to challenge it before the nation's highest court. Peru once led the world in coca-growing, but slashed production by 70 percent in recent years. A new UN report, however, says cultivation rose again last year by 14 percent.

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