The mastermind of last year's Samarra mosque bombing, which set in motion an unrelenting cycle of retaliatory sectarian bloodletting between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, has been killed by US troops, military officials said Sunday. Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, said to be the Al Qaeda leader of Salahuddin province, died in a US operation east of Samarra on Thursday. His death was announced three days later.

Some 19 million are marooned in South Asia due to torrential rains and flooding. On Sunday, officials said the death toll in India and Bangladesh had risen to at least 289. Helicopters dropped food and the army helped civil authorities carry out rescue operations.

The future of 21 South Korean hostages was to top the agenda as President Bush hosts Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at Camp David Sunday and Monday. The Taliban has offered to meet South Korean officials to discuss the situation, according to purported spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi. He said, however, that the talks must take place in Taliban territory or under protection of the UN.

A tense vote in Lebanon Sunday could further tear the country apart. Against the will of President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's Western-backed government called elections in two districts to replace a pair of assassinated legislators, both of whom were vocal opponents of neighboring Syria. The standoff between Saniora and the opposition could lead to the formation of rival governments if parliament fails to elect a new president before the Nov. 23 deadline for Mr. Lahoud to step down.

Pakistani opposition leader Javed Hashmi, released Saturday after serving nearly four years of a 23-year jail sentence, demanded that military President Gen. Pervez Musharraf step down so upcoming elections could be held free of government interference.

Egyptian police have found 1,102 pounds of explosives buried near a central desert village in the Sinai Peninsula, a police officer said Sunday. Wide parts of the Sinai, where Islamic militants have carried out three major bombings since October 2004, are used for drug and weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages, and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, officials said Saturday. Power generation nationally is only meeting half the demand, and there were four nationwide blackouts in the previous two days.

Mules are being enlisted to carry books into remote parts of Venezuela to promote reading, BBC News reports. The project, which was initiated by the University of Momboy, is also involved in transporting laptops so that villagers can use the Internet.

A Nepalese government delegation met with ethnic rights activists Sunday to discuss how to end the violence in southern Nepal that has claimed more than 70 lives this year.

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