Iraq's foreign minister said Sunday that his government and the US are "very close" to final agreement on a security deal that would determine how much longer American troops remain in his country. But Hoshyar Zebari would not discuss a timetable for withdrawal, except to say that Iraq insists that it be "very clear" if it is to win parliamentary approval. The UN mandate for stationing foreign troops in Iraq expires at year's end.

Opposition sources in Zimbabwe would not confirm reports that their side had reached "a common position" with President Robert Mugabe that would allow him to keep his post. But South African leader Thabo Mbeki, who is brokering negotiations between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, was seen in private meetings with each side, amid speculation that Mugabe would retain a ceremonial role. The Bloomberg news service reported that the talks have yielded one other development: a pledge by the MDC not to return farms seized from white owners by Mugabe's government.

Ten attackers and a security guard were killed Sunday when "violent terrorists" targeted a shopping center and other buildings in China's Muslim-dominated Xinjiang Province. The Xinhua news agency said the attackers had made bombs from lengths of pipe and gas canisters. A manhunt was under way for three of the militants. The incident was the second in the province in less than a week. Last Monday, assailants rammed a truck into a police patrol, killing 16 officers and wounding 16 others.

Three days of mourning and a state funeral, a tribute previously accorded only to Yasser Arafat, were scheduled for Palestinian writerMahmoud Darwish. Darwish, regarded as the national poet of the Palestinian cause, died Saturday following surgery in a Houston hospital. A shrine in his honor will be built in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

At least eight people died and 18 others were hurt late Saturday night when terrorists set off a powerful car bomb outside a Coast Guard barracks in eastern Algeria.There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack was the third of its type since July 23. The previous two were claimed by the North African branch of Al Qaeda. The latest incident could have been worse, reports said, but shots fired by police halted the vehicle before it could ram the barracks.

Fierce fighting was under way in two Christian townships in the southern Philippines Sunday after Muslim militants ignored an ultimatum to withdraw and were attacked by government forces. Early reports said one soldier was killed and six others were hurt. Rather than obey the ultimatum, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front occupied more than a dozen additional villages, the reports said.

Until democracy is restored in Mauritania, the country will be suspended from membership in the African Union, the bloc announced Saturday. But the military leaders who overthrew the civilian government of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi last week said they would not free him "at this time, for security reasons." They've promised a new election "as soon as possible," but would not reveal their timetable to a visiting envoy from the Arab League.

A thunderous explosion at a propane gas plant awakened residents of Toronto at 3:50 a.m. Sunday, and police ordered thousands of them to evacuate. The blast and a series of secondary explosions caused a massive fire at the plant and set nearby houses ablaze. At least two people were hurt, a 10-mile section of Route 401, one of Canada's busiest highways, was closed to traffic, and a no-fly zone was imposed over the plant.

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