Prime Minister Ariel Sharon committed Israel to an early national election next March in a meeting with the new leader of his coalition partner, the Labor Party. Amir Peretz forced Sharon's hand by threatening to pull out of the government, and analysts said their agreement on a new vote almost certainly would halt any efforts to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The latter are scheduled to hold their own parliamentary election in January. Normally, Israelis would not go to the polls until next November. It was unclear whether Sharon would remain in the Likud movement, where his leadership is challenged by ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or take the advice of allies and form a new party.

Tamil rebels used violence, roadblocks, and intimidation to keep voters from the polls in areas of Sri Lanka under their control while the rest of the nation elected a new president Thursday. Only 2,168 people out of a population of 700,000 in the Tamil district of Jaffna were reported to have voted as the polls there closed. The outcome was considered too close to call between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, an opponent of Tamil autonomy, and his predecessor, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Two more people died of bird flu in Indonesia, and two new outbreaks of the virus were reported in China - signs, analysts said, that its spread is picking up speed as the weather grows colder. The issue is expected to be a major focus of this weekend's meetings in South Korea of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which is being attended by President Bush and 20 other government leaders from the region. An overseas Chinese website accused the Beijing government of hiding hundreds of human cases, but it defended its handling of the problem as "very responsible" and said, "It is not necessary for us to cover up."

At least four people were hurt, one of them critically, when a bomb exploded in a market in the Kosovo town of Strpce before the arrival of a special UN envoy to try to mediate a lasting peace between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs. At the same time, members of Kosovo's legislature approved a 10-point resolution demanding nothing less than independence for the Albanian-dominated province, a move seen as certain to anger Serbia's government. The latter unanimously rejected Kosovo independence in a resolution of its own earlier this week. The UN has controlled the volatile province since the end of a two-year war between Serb forces and separatist guerrillas in 1999.

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