The Bush administration and Iran are to hold a second round of discussions Tuesday in Baghdad on the security situation in Iraq, both sides confirmed. Earlier talks at the ambassadorial level in May were the first of their type in 27 years. But they produced no breakthroughs, and in the interim strains have intensified over accusations that Iran is smuggling explosives to extremists in Iraq.

New special envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair was on his first official trip to the region in that role Monday, meeting with the leaders of Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. But critics noted that the former British prime minister's mission is not geared to brokering peace. Instead, he's assigned to prepare the ground for a Palestinian state by encouraging political reform, the building of lasting institutions, and economic development.

New conditions for the release of six foreign medical personnel were set by Libya's government Monday. Reports said the north African nation presented European Union diplomats with a demand for normalized relations "at all levels" before it will allow the six to return to Bulgaria. They were convicted of deliberately infecting 460 Libyan children with the virus that's believed to cause AIDS, but their death sentences were commuted last week. Libya also wants the EU to provide medical treatment for the surviving children.

Saying, "It is a question of national dignity," leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela ordered that visitors who publicly criticize him or his government be expelled. At a conference in Caracas last week, a leading Mexican politician called Chávez's plan to abolish term limits on the presidency "a threat to democracy." Last month, a visiting Spanish judge also slammed Chávez in remarks before a business forum there. The public comments of future visitors will be monitored, Chávez said.

Leaders of antigovernment protests in Thailand vowed to press on despite the filing of criminal charges after a riot Sunday night that injured 270 people. The demonstration began outside the Bangkok home of ex-government chief Prem Tinsulanonda, who is accused of instigating the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year. Prem wasn't hurt. The protest was the latest in a series staged by Thaksin supporters as Thailand prepares for the promised restoration of electoral democracy later this year.

Peacekeeping troops patrolled East Timor's capital Monday, and new President José Ramos-Horta appealed for calm after rival gangs set fire to houses and blocked streets with rocks and burning tires. They had to be dispersed with tear gas. Four people were hurt, all of them critically. The violence appeared to stem from the failure of lawmakers to decide who should lead the new coalition government following last month's inconclusive election.

With the promise of new financing from two Asian partners, Barclays Bank of Britain said Monday it will increase its bid for the Dutch financial group ABN Amro to $93.1 billion. The latter welcomed "the opportunity for shareholders to consider two competing proposals on a level playing field." But analysts said the $97.8 billion bid by Royal Bank of Scotland still gives it the advantage over Barclays. Either offer, if accepted, would represent the largest takeover of a financial institution in history.

Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan, who died Monday, returned from exile in April 2002 as the ceremonial "father of the nation," which was emerging from Taliban rule. But he made no attempt to retake the throne, yielding instead to an elected government under President Hamid Karzai. Under the new Constitution, the monarchy dissolves with his death.

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