Even if an agreement should be reached on whether Russia will take over the enrichment of uranium for Iran, the latter intends to continue its program of nuclear research, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday. The governments opened discussions in Moscow over the Russian proposal, which is seen as a final opportunity for Iran to avoid possible UN sanctions due to its nuclear ambitions. For its part, the European Union said through a spokeswoman that it has no wish to isolate Iran and continues to hope for "a diplomatic solution" to the standoff. But against that backdrop, the Middle East Media Research Institute reported over the weekend that extremist Muslim clerics in Iran - one of them the spiritual mentor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - had issued a new decree that the use of nuclear weapons by the government is allowable under sharia, or Islamic law.

A radical Islamic leader was freed from house arrest by police in Pakistan and promptly called for more protests against the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that raged there last week. Qazi Hussain Ahmed had been confined so he couldn't participate in a demonstration in Islamabad Sunday. Although banned, it took place anyway, leading to three hours of fighting with police. In related violence, police arrested 23 Muslim radicals for the burning of two Christian churches Sunday. Elsewhere, 28 people died in rioting over the cartoons in Nigeria and 11 more were killed in similar violence in Libya. In Indonesia, hundreds of Muslims pelted the US Embassy with rocks. In Afghanistan's capital, hundreds of Islamists called for the death of President Hamid Karzai and threatened to join Al Qaeda as protests over the cartoons picked up again after losing steam two weeks ago.

The first round of negotiations on the political future of Kosovo opened between ethnic Serb and Albanian representatives Monday, with the latter expressing confidence that they'd achieve their goal of independence. Kosovo holds an almost sacred status among Serbs, but its population is 90 percent Albanian. It has been administered by the UN since 1999. The two sides so far have been unable to agree on how to divide power locally, with Serbs insisting they be allowed to govern their own communities. The talks, in Vienna, were delayed a month because of the death of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova.

A door-to-door search for people with possible symptoms of bird flu was under way in India's Maharashtra State, and authorities were slaughtering hundreds of thousands of chickens Monday as the heavily populated nation worked to contain the virus. But the government's health minister said the situation was "under control" despite the announcement Saturday that 50,000 chickens had been found dead. India exports $84 million worth of poultry and eggs a year. Meanwhile, in Egypt, authorities closed the Cairo zoo and destroyed more than 560 of its birds after six that had died recently tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus.

Sound-detection devices picked up rhythmic tapping under tons of muck covering an elementary school in the Philippines Monday, four days after a devastating landslide. But a spokesman for US marines helping with rescue efforts disputed the claim by the government's undersecretary for interior affairs that 50 survivors had been found. The school and other buildings in remote Guisaugon, a town of 1,800 people, were covered by up to 100 feet of mud that had been loosened by two weeks of hard rain.

In a race against time, emergency crews were digging debris from a collapsed coal mine shaft in rural northern Mexico to try to reach 65 men trapped after a methane gas explosion Sunday. Eight other miners working nearer the surface were rescued. The trapped men reportedly had about six hours' worth of oxygen in tanks, but no food. A spokes-man for the mine owner said backup oxygen tanks were available at scattered locations, but it wasn't known whether they were found and being used.

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