An estimated 1.5 million Shiite pilgrims arrived in Kerbala, Iraq, for Friday's Arbain religious festival despite the terrorist bombings that killed 117 others earlier this week. But the attacks continued, with at least 16 more deaths from bombings Wednesday. Security in Kerbala is heavy, but some Shiites said their clerics still should have encouraged pilgrims to stay home in the face of the new attacks, which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has blamed on Sunni militants. Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry announced it will attend Maliki's regional security conference in Baghdad Saturday.

Under sunny skies, a steady stream of voters was reported at polling places across Northern Ireland for a crucial election to choose a new national assembly. The 108-member legislature will have the task of forming a Protestant-Catholic power- sharing administration. But if one isn't in place by March 26, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has vowed to disband the assembly the next day, ending a decade-long effort to give Northern Ireland a self-rule government.

Wednesday brought yet another major transportation accident to Indonesia, the fifth since Christmas. A commercial jet carrying 140 passengers and crew crashed and burned on landing at Yogyakarta, the cultural capital. Early reports said as many as 49 people were killed, but authorities later lowered that to 23, some of them visiting Australian diplomats. The plane, a Garuda Airlines Boeing 737, was a slightly different model from those of rival Adam Air, one-third of whose fleet was grounded last month after one of them made a hard landing and broke apart. There also have been two ferry disasters in recent weeks.

Two kidnapped peacekeepers from the African Union (AU) were shot to death in Sudan's Darfur region, and a third is critically wounded, their mission said Wednesday. All three were abducted earlier this week. In a statement, the AU blamed the rebel Sudan Liberation Army for the murders, which, if true, would be especially worrying, analysts said. The rebel force not only signed a peace accord on Darfur with the government last year but also is supposed to be a partner in enforcing it. The AU mandate in Darfur expires in June, and the government repeatedly has refused to OK a replacement force from the UN.

Suspected Muslim separatists beheaded a rubber plantation worker in southern Thailand Wednesday, then exploded a bomb that wounded one police officer as his unit arrived to investigate. Seven other people have been murdered in the Musim-dominated region since Monday in another surge of violence that has intensified under the Army-installed government. Elsewhere, the government relented in ordering the nation's only independent TV station off the air, saying it could continue operations for the present.

The opposition-dominated Congress in Ecuador fired the judge who cast the key vote last week as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal OK'd President Rafael Correa's proposed referendum on rewriting the Constitution. His dismissal Tuesday was considered certain to anger Correa, who considers Congress a "sewer of corruption" and wants a rewritten charter to curb the influence of opposition parties. The legislators also voted to block $16 million that the new president gave the electoral court to fund the referendum.

For the second time in less than a month, Mexico's government protested an "incursion" by US officials, pointing up the sensitivity over illegal migration as the presidents of both nations prepare for two days of meetings next week. The Foreign Ministry said Border Patrol agents based in Arizona should have notified Mexican authorities before crossing the boundary to put out a spreading brush fire. Earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff drew a protest for stepping onto Mexican soil as he visited crews building the hotly disputed border fence, also in Arizona.

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