Israelis were turning out in smaller than expected numbers for Tuesday's national election, reports said six hours before polls were due to close. By late afternoon, 39 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, a level below that of the last election, in 2003. Analysts said that if the trend continued, it could harm the prospects of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party, whose lead in opinion polls was already eroding as the voting neared.

By a 71-to-36 vote, the Palestinian parliament approved the cabinet proposed by Hamas, reducing Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh to tears. He told the legislators, "We were born from the womb of resistance [and] we will protect resistance" - a reference to the fight against Israel, which Hamas has refused to recognize. Earlier, Haniyeh drew fire from some lawmakers for a speech that appeared to be more conciliatory toward Israel.

A rivalry between two Muslim clerics turned violent in the tribal region of northwestern Pakistan late Monday, killing at least 26 people. Twenty-five others were hurt before police and security forces intervened. The rivalry worsened after the clerics, both of whom had FM radio stations, took to criticizing each other on the air. A tribal council ordered them to stop broadcasting and leave the area, but one of the stations continued to operate. Meanwhile, the US consulate in the nearby city of Peshawar closed temporarily after a booby-trapped motorcycle exploded there, injuring eight people.

More than 1,000 people - among them a defeated candidate for president and a former ambassador from Poland - have been jailed in Belarus for protesting the landslide reelection of incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, a human rights center claimed. It cited cases of 18 people being confined to cells built to hold 5 and said 20 of the prisoners had begun a hunger strike. Lukashenko, who was credited with 83 percent of the vote, praised police for restoring order, calling their efforts "well done!"

The convert to Christianity who has been a focus of international attention is in a "safe location" in Afghanistan, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday after his release from prison. Abdul Rahman's ultimate destination was unclear, although UN officials said he'd asked to leave Afghan- istan and Italy's foreign minister was expected to seek approval to grant him asylum. Former Afghan King Mohamad Zaher Shah lived in exile in Rome for 30 years before returning home in 2001 following the fall of the Taliban regime.

Another delay was announced in the long-awaited national election in Congo, because officials said they need more time to process the applications of candidates. Last month, the Electoral Commission scheduled the voting for June 18. But it said Tuesday that the new date would not be divulged until "after April 2." The target date of last June was missed, as was the hope of holding the vote this month. Congo's transitional Constitution expires June 30. The commission said 30 candidates have filed to run for president, but only 400 so far have paid the registration fee to run for the 500 seats in parliament.

Twenty-seven senior military officers have confessed to plotting a coup against Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and have asked for mercy, reports said Tuesday. But Jammeh, who seized power himself 12 years ago, vowed to crush "without mercy" any overthrow attempt. The plot was uncovered last week while Jammeh was out of the country. Gambian authorities asked their counterparts in neighboring Senegal to arrest a 28th suspect, who is believed to have fled there. Jammeh has fired several high-profile Army officers in recent months. His small country is scheduled to be the host of the African Union summit conference in July.

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