Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered the six Cabinet ministers from his movement to quit Iraq's government Monday because it has refused to set a timetable for withdrawal of US forces. But analysts scorned the order as another attempt by Sadr to restore discipline among his followers, many of whom reject his tacit support for the security crackdown in Baghdad. The analysts said none of the six holds a critical portfolio and their pullout could give Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a freer hand to pursue his policies.

Shipments of badly needed rice to North Korea were in the balance Monday as rival South Korea said it may delay them because of the former's failure to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities. Officials in Seoul told reporters that "Nothing has been decided yet." But one said, "We can't just ... do nothing" if the communist North doesn't live up to its promise to disarm. The closure deadline passed last Saturday. In Tokyo, Japanese leaders said setting a new deadline was "not appropriate."

"Without any discrimination," China and Switzerland have agreed to recognize the new Palestinian unity government, the latter's information ministry said Monday. Since the Hamas-Fatah coalition was formed last month, only Norway has extended such recognition. Other governments have said they'd deal only with non-Hamas figures in the cabinet.

BBC journalist Alan Johnston's parents issued "a heartfelt appeal" Monday to his captors to "end this ordeal," following a claim by Palestinian militants that they'd executed him. The claim by the Brigades of Holy War and Unity couldn't be verified immediately. Johnston was seized March 12 in the Gaza Strip. Of the more than a dozen foreign reporters or aid workers abducted in Gaza over the past year and a half, he is almost alone in having been held so long.

Leaders of Sinn Fein, the Catholic party allied with the Irish Republican Army, met for the first time Monday with Northern Ireland's Policing Board under terms of their deal with Protestants for a self-rule government. The talks were expected to focus on the relationship between police and Protestant paramilitaries and on the use by security forces of plastic bullets. To secure a place in the government, Sinn Fein had to agree to drop its longstanding policy of noncooperation with the mostly Protestant police force.

Service to the Muslim-dominated provinces of southern Thailand was suspended by the state rail system Sunday after separatist gunmen fired on a train, wounding the engineer and one passenger. The suspension will continue until conditions are considered safe enough to resume, a railway spokesman said. Separatists also set fire to five more schools Sunday and killed a Buddhist motorcyclist, setting his remains on fire in the second incident of its type in less than a week.

Work was to begin Monday on pulling down roadblocks and other vestiges of the buffer zone in Ivory Coast that has separated government and rebel forces. The move, part of the process of reunifying the country, means that 11,000 UN and French peacekeepers who've been deployed in the zone since early 2004 will withdraw to observation posts and give way to joint rebel-loyalist patrols. Former rebel chief Guillaume Soro assumed the prime ministership in a new unity government April 4.

A potential new political crisis was emerging in Nepal, where the communist rebel movement threatened to reopen its campaign to topple the monarchy. A spokesman said his group had not yet decided whether to withdraw from the interim unity coalition but was demanding the establishment of a republic, since the Elections Commission claimed last week it could not properly organize a June 20 election for a new government. That election is specified in last year's peace accord, but the commission said it needs more time. The rebel spokesman said the basis for the unity government "has crumbled now, and we should find a new one."

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