Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was barred by Pakistan's election commission from running for parliament in next month's voting. It said his nomination papers were rejected "because of his convictions" seven years ago on a corruption charge. At the time, he was ordered to stay out of politics for the next decade, but he returned from exile last month and registered as a candidate despite threatening to lead a boycott of the election.

Israel freed 429 Palestinians from its prisons Monday, most of them members of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement. The move is aimed at strengthening Abbas's hand against Hamas. The release was to have come prior to last week's conference on Middle East peace, but it was delayed for unspecified reasons. Above, relatives and friends greet one of the freed prisoners in Ramallah in the West Bank.

In an about-face, Lebanon's coalition government dropped its opposition to Army chief Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate for president. But his election will require an amendment to the Constitution, which bars "public servants" from the office until after they've been retired for two years. After four postponements, parliament will vote to fill the office on Friday.

Fifty-four members of a committee chosen by Burma's ruling junta have begun drafting a new constitution, the Information Ministry said. But it said the process wouldn't be open to review, as urged by the UN, because "no advice from other persons is required." The junta regards the drafting process as the third of seven steps in its "road map to democracy." Western governments deride the road map as a sham.

Longtime enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, the top two leaders of Northern Ireland's self-rule government, began a week-long trip to the US Monday. Its purpose: to demonstrate that their Protestant-Catholic partnership can work and to promote Northern Ireland as ripe for investment. The schedule calls for them to meet with President Bush Friday in the White House.

Fidel Castro accepted nomination as a candidate for Cuba's National Assembly Sunday, a sign, analysts said, that he may still hope to return to power. Cubans vote Jan. 20 for a new legislature. It, in turn, chooses the Council of State, whose leader becomes national president. Castro hasn't appeared in public since undergoing surgery 15 months ago, yielding the office on an interim basis to his brother, Raul. But aides say he has kept up with state business, and he has written numerous essays for publication on domestic and international matters.

Democracy advocate Anson Chan won a seat in Hong Kong's legislature in Sunday's election, easily defeating her Beijing-backed rival in a heavy turnout at the polls. Analysts said the outcome should be read as a referendum on what type of rule residents of the territory want. Opponent Regina Ip did not campaign against democratic rule but said it should be introduced according to a "realistic" timetable.

British teacher Gillian Gibbons was pardoned by Sudan's president Monday for "insulting" Islam by allowing her students to name a teddy bear for the prophet Muhammad. She issued a statement apologizing for "any distress" her actions caused and was expected to leave Sudan within hours. But her pardon brought a new protest outside Britain's embassy by Muslims who said it wounded their sensibilities.

Actress and UN goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow launched a new fund to aid survivors of the violence against non-Arabs in Darfur. She said the independent, antigenocide Aegis Trust would manage the Fund4Darfur, whose mission will come on top of other international efforts to help refugees. An estimated 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million more have been forced from their homes in the region.

At least 18 men were killed and 43 others were missing after a coal mine explosion in China, reports said Monday. The blast occurred Sunday in southwestern Yunnan Province. All other mines in the region were ordered to suspend operations pending safety inspections.

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