Amid accusations that his government is stalling, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator was expected to provide a "first response" to the European Union Thursday night on the offer of rewards for abandoning the enrichment of uranium. The meeting was to have been held in Brussels Wednesday, but was called off at the last minute because of Iranian annoyance at a demonstration in Paris by exiled opposition groups. The full negotiating teams from Iran and the EU are scheduled to meet next Tuesday. The Bush administration has demanded a reply to the incentives package by then so it can be discussed at next weekend's Group of Eight summit. But a spokesman for the Iranians said the meeting Tuesday "is just for removing ambiguities" and his government's answer will not be given at that time.
Sunni extremists were blamed for a car-bomb explosion Thursday in Kufa, Iraq, that killed 12 people and wounded 41 others. The attack came as the victims – most of them pilgrims from Iran – were getting off buses outside a Shiite Muslim shrine. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which was seen as another attempt to foment sectarian war. US military commanders had warned earlier this week of an increase in such incidents because the new Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is known to be a skilled organizer of car-bomb attacks. In a related development, Iraq's new government banned political activity in all universities to try to defuse tensions between Sunni and Shiite students and lecturers.
Parliament voted overwhelmingly to extend the emergency rule in Sri Lanka for another month as the separatist campaign by Tamil rebels intensifies. Late Wednesday, suspected rebels attacked police guarding the offices of a rival Tamil political organization that is a coalition partner in the government, seriously wounding four people. Meanwhile, Army troops discovered and defused an 11-pound antipersonnel mine they said could have inflicted heavy casualties on a passing military convoy.
A foreign contractor working for energy giant Royal Dutch/Shell was seized by armed raiders Thursday from a natural gas plant in southern Nigeria, becoming the second such hostage in less than 24 hours. Raids by local militants have increased in frequency in recent months, with the kidnapers usually demanding a greater share of the region's oil and gas wealth. Most of the incidents have ended peacefully, but they have cut energy production in the region by roughly 25 percent, helping to drive up prices on the world's commodities markets.
Braving rain, wind, and biting cold, delegations from India and China formally reopened a mountain pass on their border that had been used by traders dating back to the ancient Silk Road. Nathu La, at an elevation of 14,200 feet, was closed 44 years ago as the two countries fought a war over demarcation of the border. The reopening is seen as largely symbolic, since the territorial issues still haven't been resolved through negotiations, and trade will be limited to locally produced goods four days a week. But with new roads and other improvements in infrastructure, officials project that trade through the pass could reach $3 billion a year within a decade.
In a swing to the right, voters in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia returned the largest bloc of seats in the next parliament to a nationalist party – although apparently not enough that it will be able to govern without a coalition partner. Socialist Prime Minister Vlado Bucovski conceded defeat Thursday but said if his probable successor, Nikola Gruevski, can't put together a coalition, "we're here." Analysts said a coalition would have to include at least one party representing the republic's Albanian minority. Five years ago, with nationalists in power, an Albanian uprising brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war.