Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to hold a 1 million-strong demonstration next Wednesday, the anniversary of the US takeover of Baghdad. The Interior Ministry pledged not to block it as long as it remains peaceful. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said his government would conduct more security crackdowns such as the one last week in Basra. He didn't mention Sadr's Mahdi militia but did cite the Baghdad neighborhood that bears the cleric's family name.
With official results of Zimbabwe's presidential election still to be released, senior aides to incumbent Robert Mugabe confidently predicted he'll win a runoff April 19. But the respected Business Day newspaper in neighboring South Africa said it had been told Mugabe has conceded to family members and advisers that he'd lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change and was considering whether to forgo a runoff. The newspaper said, however, that hardliners in his government want him to contest the race to the bitter end.
In an angry new retort to South Korea's president, rival North Korea said Thursday that it was ready for "an advance preemptive attack" and was "compelled to suspend all dialogues and contacts" between them. After a week of increasingly harsh rhetoric, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak had urged the North's government to change its tone and return to reunification talks.
Striking farmers in Argentina decided Wednesday to return to work. But their leaders said they were giving President Cristina Fernandez a reprieve of "no more than 30 days" unless her government negotiates a rollback of export tax increases on soybeans, wheat, corn, and beef that, the producers claim, do not allow them to make a profit. Fernandez so far has refused to consider rescinding the hikes.
Inspectors from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wound up final preparatory meetings with organizers of the Beijing Summer Games, saying they were "satisfied with assurances received [in] a number of areas." In particular, they cited unhindered Internet access for the tens of thousands of foreign news personnel who will cover the two-week festival and live TV feeds from politically sensitive locations such as Tiananmen Square. An IOC spokesman said Beijing organizers were told that restricting Internet access "would reflect very poorly" on China.
Resurgent Islamist militants were back within 35 miles of Somalia's government stronghold Thursday as their hit-and-run campaign spread. Since being defeated last year by a combined force of Somali and Ethiopian troops, the militants have regrouped, seizing at least eight towns, although they usually hold them only a few hours before leaving again. Baidoa, the base of interim President Abdullahi Yusuf, is well-guarded by Ethiopians, however, analysts said.
Cutting ribbons and releasing brightly colored balloons, Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials reopened shop-lined Ledra Street in Nicosia, whose closure had symbolized the partition of the island for 44 years. While shoppers still needed ID cards or passports to use the crossing, the move was seen as an important step toward reunification of the ethnically divided island. Above, a UN policeman directs pedestrians at an intersection on the street.
Round-the-clock monitoring by conservationists in Cambodia has enabled a "remarkable comeback" by seven species of rare water birds, wildlife experts reported Thursday. They credited former hunters working as park rangers with bringing a decline in poaching of birds and their eggs, allowing the populations of endangered species to increase by as much as 20 times around Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater reservoir in Southeast Asia. Above, some of the birds rest in tree tops along the lake.