A deal that would result in a new unity government for the Palestinians appeared imminent Monday as President Mahmoud Abbas headed for a critical meeting with Hamas negotiators in the Gaza Strip. Reports said the plan called for Prime Minister Ibrahim Haniyeh of Hamas and his entire cabinet to step down and be replaced by technocrats. No timetable was announced, however, and negotiations toward that end have broken down in the past. A Hamas spokesman said his organization had chosen a successor to Haniyeh but would not identify him. Abbas, who is from the Fatah faction, has said the Palestinian Authority must have a government that is acceptable to the international community so that the flow of desperately needed financial aid may resume. Foreign donors largely have cut off funds because of Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Local authorities in the Puntland region of Somalia denied reports of heavy fighting Monday between their forces and militiamen of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). But a UIC spokes-man claimed that Puntland fighters backed by troops from neighboring Ethiopia had initiated the combat, which, if confirmed, would be the first between the two sides. Puntland, semiautonomous and the home of transitional Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, is one of two such regions that the UIC has threatened to bring under sharia law. Its leaders have vowed to resist a takeover.

Leaders of Sinn Fein, the dominant Catholic party in Northern Ireland, gathered Monday to decide how to respond to an end-of-the-week deadline for declaring whether to support the latest peace plan for the province. But reports said the issue of accepting a Protestant-dominated police force for the province – one of the two pillars of the plan – would not be on the agenda. The Belfast Telegraph newspaper said Sinn Fein regards Nov. 24, the date set by Britain and the Irish Republic for Catholics and Protestants to elect the top two leaders of a power-sharing government, as the more important deadline. If that is not met, Britain and Ireland have said they will disband Northern Ireland's Assembly.

With police guards defecting to the ranks of his opponents, Kyrgyzstan's embattled president gave in to demonstrations against his rule Monday and agreed to meet with the organizers. Kurmanbek Bakiyev also fired his interior minister as the political turmoil in the ex-Soviet republic deepened. But he refused to bow to demands that he and Prime Minister Felix Kulov resign. Protesters have been rallying against Bakiyev daily since late last week, and a presentation of his proposed reforms to the Constitution was boycotted by opposition legislators Monday, preventing a vote on them.

The third coal mine accident in China in three days killed at least 17 men and left dozens more missing, the Xinhua news agency reported. It said gas in the Jiaojiazhi mine in Shanxi Province exploded Sunday, collapsing tunnels and making rescue efforts difficult. More than 340 others on duty escaped injury. Xinhua said the approaching end of the year has increased pressure on mine operators to meet production targets tied to the booming economy, and safety standards often are ignored in the process. Fifteen miners died in explosions elsewhere Friday and Saturday.

Bulent Ecevit, who died late Sunday in Ankara, Turkey, held the prime ministership of his strategically important country five times. Shortly after first taking office in 1974, he ordered Army units to Cyprus to defend the Turkish minority there, resulting in the division of that island that continues to this day. He also was a strong defender of secular rule and helped to open Turkey to Western influences, culminating in an application for membership in the European Union. In ill health, he was swept from office four years ago when voters gave the reins of power to the Islamic-based Justice and Development Party.

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