In a published decree, Serbia's government said Monday it will hold local elections in Kosovo next month despite the UN's insistence that it alone has the authority to organize such voting there. The government said the May 11 elections will be held in 16 communities where ethnic Serbs live, among them the capital, Pristina. The UN and 36 national governments have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence. But Serbia considers the province the cradle of its civilization.

Exit polls after two days of voting for a new government in Italy showed conservative ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's forces with leads in both houses of parliament. But the margins were narrow, and political analysts cautioned that such polls often have proved unreliable. As recently as two years ago, they failed to predict accurately the final outcome of legislative voting. Berlusconi, bidding for a third stint as head of government, is opposed by leftist former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni.

Beginning three weeks before the Olympic Summer Games, China's government will ban all forms of construction in Beijing, it said Monday. The order is aimed at clearing the city's air of pollution. China promised good air quality for the games when it bid for them in 2001 but has had little evident success so far in meeting that goal. Olympics officials have warned that some events will be postponed if pollution levels are excessive.

Despite calls for his resignation, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahman Badawi said Monday he intends to run for reelection as leader of the ruling National Front. If he wins the balloting in December, he and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak "will consider matters relating to the transfer" of power. Critics blame Abdullah (l.) for the National Front's worst losses yet in elections last month. Against that backdrop, the opposition People's Justice Party was expected to hold a mass rally Monday night for the return to politics of its former leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Rallies of more than five people are illegal without official permission, however, and police warned that participants "will be severely dealt with."

Onetime Protestant militant Peter Robinson was chosen by Democratic Unionist Party leaders in Northern Ireland to succeed the Rev. Ian Paisley as their chief and next first minister of the province's power-sharing government. Robinson, who's currently finance minister in the government, is expected to assume the new post in June. His election still must be ratified by the DUP later this week, but that is considered a formality. Paisley has been the DUP's only leader in its 35-year history.

Over the objections of his security advisers, East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta announced plans to return to his own residence Thursday and resume his duties. He has been undergoing medical treatment in Australia since Feb. 11, when he was gravely wounded by a would-be assassin. His home in the capital, Dili, is isolated, and the advisers recommended he move to a location that is more easily guarded.

A packed passenger train pulled out of Calcutta, India, Monday bound for Bangladesh's capital, resuming a service that was cut 43 years ago. Travel between the two cities is heavy but has had to be undertaken by bus since 1965, when India and Pakistan went to war. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan six years later, but trains crossing the border since then have carried only freight. The Friendship Express will be subjected to lengthy customs inspections at the border, reports said.

In an unlikely move for a rock guitarist, Liverpool John Moores University in England named Brian May as its new chancellor, succeeding Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. But May, who cofounded the band Queen with legendary vocalist Freddie Mercury, also holds a doctorate in astrophysics and helped to write the recent book "Bang! The Complete History of the Universe."

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