A parade of foreign leaders visited Afghanistan over the weekend, meeting with their nations' troops and President Hamid Karzai and renewing commitments to staying "for the long haul." Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi (above, r., passing an honor guard) followed French President Nicolas Sarkozy and new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Kabul in pledging to "help with the emergence of an Afghan state that is legitimate, democratic, and modern." Afghanistan is ending its worst year so far of attacks by Taliban radicals.

Al Qaeda confirmed a claim by the US military in Iraq that the leader of its propaganda effort there was killed in a raid last month. He was identified as Abu Maysara, a Syrian who had escaped from prison last spring. In another development, The Washington Post cited senior State Department officials as saying "the most senior levels" of Iran's government have decided to rein in Shiite militias they've been supporting in Iraq. The sources said, Iran has become concerned at "what was being done by the groups ... in terms of their own long-term interests."

For the second time in eight months, Pakistan's former minister of the interior escaped assassination after a bomber killed himself and at least 55 other people over the weekend.Aftab Sherpao, the apparent target of the attack inside a mosque in the volatile North-West Frontier Province and a close ally of President Pervez Musharraf, had led a government crackdown on Taliban and Al Qaeda operations. Seven students from a nearby Islamic school were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack, one of the worst of its type in Pakistan's history.

Palestinian leaders reacted angrily to Israel's plans to build 740 new residences in disputed eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, warning that they'd make the issue the sole focus of resumed peace negotiations Monday. But senior Israeli officials defended the plans, saying the Jewish state had a duty to provide housing for its citizens and had not promised to stop building in Jerusalem.

On both sides of the buffer zone in Ivory Coast, government troops and rebels boarded trucks and withdrew to their respective headquarters Sunday in the first stage of a long-delayed armistice. The two sides were to have begun disarming in 2004, but the process repeatedly was delayed by bickering. Plans call for the rebels to be absorbed into the Army or be demobilized and for a national election to be held by the middle of next year.

Emergency crews conceded Sunday that they didn't know how many more people may be trapped under an avalanche that buried a section of the main north-south highway in Tajikistan, killing at least 16 motorists or their passengers. In past winters, the road between Dushanbe, the capital, and Khudjand, the second-laargest city, was closed due to avalanche danger. But a new $31 million tunnel has allowed it to remain open this year. Below, small plows return from clearing snow at the scene.

Over American objections, the UN General Assembly approved a budget of $4.17 billion over the next two years. The vote was 149-1, with 49 abstentions. The US opposed a $7 billion outlay in the spending plan that would fund a follow-up conference on racism to the one held six years ago in Durban, South Africa. That conference singled out Israel for censure over its treatment of Palestinians. The US contributes 22 percent of the UN budget.

More than $30 million will go to helping farmers and entrepreneurs set up rural "micro enterprises" on the African island nation of Madagascar, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development announced Saturday. A spokesman said the project expects to offer financing, insurance, technological training, and apprenticeships to as many as 50,000 people. It is being co-funded by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

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