To "lessen the pain of the Iraqi people," Iran's government said itwill meet US negotiators for formal discussions in Baghdad. The timing and level of seniority of the Iranian delegation will be decided by week's end, the Foreign Ministry said. A spokeswoman for Vice President Cheney told reporters that "the conversation [will be] limited to Iraq issues at the ambassadorial level." Iran denies accusations by the Bush administration that it trains militants in Iraq and supplies them with weapons to kill American troops. Mid-level officials from both sides have met briefly on two occasions in recent months.

By car, bus, and even ferries, an estimated 1.5 million people streamed into Izmir, Turkey, Sunday to demand that their country remain secular. The rally was the fourth of its type in a month, and organizers said they hoped it would unite opposition against the Islamist-based government of the Justice and Development Party before Turks vote for a new president July 22.

A UN-sponsored march against child hunger was canceled at the last minute by police in Beijing Sunday when more than double the expected number of participants showed up.Organizers said they were told "there are too many people interested" in it. A day earlier, a giant portrait of Mao Zedong, the father of China's communist revolution, was defaced in Beijing's Tiananmen Square by a man who threw a burning object at it. He was arrested, and a new security clampdown was ordered.

The communist regime in North Korea fired Premier Pak Pong Ju for suggesting an incentive-based system of paying workers, a published report said. The North's official news agency reported last month that Pak had been replaced but did not say why. Sunday's report in a Japanese newspaper said other senior officials blasted the proposal as too expensive and "too similar to US-style capitalism."

Taking another step in its participation in Northern Ireland's new power-sharing government, Sinn Fein confirmed Sunday that it is placing three members on the provincial policing board it previously refused to support.The board is part of a strategy to reform the mostly Protestant police force. Joining it was a key condition of Northern Ireland's dominant Protestant party to agree to cooperate with Sinn Fein in a self-rule government.

Calling the authoritarian president of Zimbabwe "a grubby dictator," Australian Prime Minister John Howard banned the national cricket team from touring the troubled African country in September. Howard argued that Australia's participation would be an enormous propaganda boost to the [Robert] Mugabe regime." Cricket officials said they'd explore the feasibility of playing Zimbabwe at a neutral site, perhaps South Africa. A spokesman for Zimbabwe's Embassy in Australia said Howard should "take [his] politics somewhere else."

The fate of newly elected speaker Tomislav Nikolic hung in the balance Sunday as Serbia's parliament debated replacing him, and legislators from his Radical Party were trying to stall a vote on the matter. Nikolic, an ultranationalist and ally of the late hard-line President Slobodan Milosevic, would have been the third most powerful man in government. But his removal became a condition of the new coalition partnership formed Friday by pro-Western forces and the moderate nationalists of caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Despite a generally favorable evaluation from international monitors, Armenia's election for a new parliament Sunday was riddled with "mass violations," opposition parties said. They rejected the outcome and said protests would begin immediately. The Central Elections Commission put the Republican Party of Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian in the lead with 33 percent of the vote. On the whole, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said, the election was fairer than the last one, in 2003.

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