Amid tight security precautions, the 275 members of Iraq's new parliament held their long- delayed first session. But the meeting lasted only 30 minutes and was adjourned indefinitely without agreement on a speaker or his deputies. Afterward, acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said, "If [we] work seriously, we can have a government within a month." But he also said he'd withdraw his nomination to head the government "if my people ask me to." Jaafari, who won the nomination by a one-vote margin, is under fire from Kurdish and Sunni leaders for failing to stop violence by Shiite paramilitaries.

"Operation Swarmer," the largest air-supported military assault in Iraq since the war began, opened Thursday to clear terrorists from the volatile city of Samarra and its surrounding province. The area is in the so-called Sunni triangle 60 miles north of Baghdad. More than 50 warplanes participated in the first day of the operation, along with about 1,500 Iraqi and coalition troops, and hundreds of tactical vehicles. Meanwhile, Iran's government said it was prepared to hold the first direct discussions with the US since the 1979 Islamic Revolution "to help resolve the problems in Iraq and establish an independent government there." The Bush administration offered no immediate response.

A meeting looms this weekend between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders over the latter's efforts to form a new government. But analysts speculated that the session could turn testy because of reports that Abbas will ask the militant organization to revise its agenda on grounds that it is unacceptably vague. Without his OK, Hamas cannot present its proposed cabinet to the Palestinian legislature on Monday, as hoped. Its leaders reportedly have failed to win support from other political groups, meaning the cabinet would be made up of themselves, technocrats, and a few independents. Hamas also has refused to honor the 1988 Palestinian declaration of independence, which calls for recognition of Israel.

Tens of thousands of high-school and university students jammed the streets of Paris and other French cities Thursday in another attempt to pressure the government into repealing a new law aimed at lowering the unemployment rate. It allows small businesses to hire people under 25 on two-year contracts as a way of helping the underprivileged find jobs. Butsuch employees also may be fired at any time without explanation. Labor unions, which were not consulted in drafting the law, attack it as little more than a source of cheap labor. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who has refused to consider repeal, was to meet Thursday night with a group of university presidents to seek solutions to the situation.

Pleading for calm, President Alfredo Palacio sought to assure Ecuadoreans that he'd sign a controversial free-trade deal with the US only if it was in the national interest. In a Wednesday night broadcast, Palacio said he'd met with the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court to ask for their support amid the resignation of his interior minister and growing protests - some of them violent - against the pact. Palacio said the protests, led by Indians, were aimed at the overthrow of his government.The Indians claim that the trade deal would harm their economy and culture. Before his resignation, Interior Minister Alfredo Castillo was under heavy criticism for appearing to side with the Indians.

Three policemen and a soldier were killed and 19 others were hurt as demonstrations for the closure of a US-owned gold mine in Indonesia turned violent. Eight protesters also were hospitalized with injuries on the third day of protests against the Freeport-McMoRan Co. mine. It is in Papua Province, which also is the home of a separatist rebellion. The company defends its presence there, saying it pays millions of dollars a year in taxes and funds many community projects. But the separatists claim otherwise and argue that it is a symbol of the division of resources between the province and Indonesia's capital region.

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