Candidates were making their final appeals for votes Thursday in Afghanistan's long-awaited election for seats in parliament and 34 provincial councils. In addition to marking the end of the four-year process of international support for Afghanistan, the election is aimed at thwarting Taliban efforts to rejuvenate their terrorist campaign. In a radio address urging Afghans to vote, President Hamid Karzai said security forces had "prepared well" for the election and that they'd be held Sunday "in a free and fair environment."

Voters also go to the polls Sunday in Germany to elect a new national government that could feature its first woman chancellor. Some late opinion polls were showing the opposition Christian Democratic Union of physicist Angela Merkel with a six-point lead over incumbent Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democrat-led coalition. But other polls hinted that Merkel wouldn't win outright and might have to form a "grand" coalition with the Social Democrats. A new government also is to be elected Sunday in New Zealand.

Another 31 people died in terrorist attacks in Iraq Thursday, raising the two-day total to 191. The attacks have intensified since a statement attributed to Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared war on the nation's Shiite majority and anyone linked to the interim government.

The six-nation negotiations over North Korea's nuclear status ground to a standstill , with the Pyongyang delegation insisting there could be no consideration of abandoning its weapons without first receiving a light-water reactor to generate electricity. Two such reactors were offered by President Clinton in 1994 as a reward for agreeing to give up the weapons program. But construction was stopped in 2002 after the North admitted to developing warheads in secret.

The leaders of nuclear rivals India and Pakistan appeared to disappoint hopes that they'd give new momentum to the tentative peace process between their governments. In a "tense and strained" meeting at the UN in New York, they did not pledge any reductions in the numbers of their troops in disputed Kashmir, although Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan.

A crackdown on women who flout the strict Islamic dress code was threatened by senior Iranian officials, although they didn't say when it would begin or what measures would be taken against violators. Iranian law mandates that all women cover themselves with long, loose-fitting garb, but enforcement became lax under former President Mohamad Khatami, and many women there now favor figure-flattering Western attire. Khatami has since been succeeded by the hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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