The largest Sunni bloc in Iraq's parliament demanded a national referendum next year on the critical status-of-forces deal with the US in exchange for helping to pass it Wednesday. Without the Iraqi Accordance Front's 44 votes, the measure could eke out only a narrow victory, whereas Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking the broadest possible margin. Analysts said a narrow win could cause influential Shiites such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to sink the deal by publicly expressing dissatisfaction.

Pirates seized yet another cargo ship off the Horn of Africa Tuesday, as operators of the Suez Canal worried over the potential loss of transit fees if the practice continues. The latest hijacking involved a vessel loaded with steel. At least two major shipping companies have ordered their vessels to take the long route around Africa rather than risk being hijacked en route to the canal.

Leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela insisted that the arrival in port of Russian warships Tuesday for joint maneuvers was "not a provocation" aimed at the US. The Russian squadron, led by a nuclear-powered cruiser, will participate in "very simple routine exercises" beginning Monday, defense officials said. Chávez's counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, also is scheduled to make the first visit by a Russian chief of state Wednesday.

Half of a new $7.6 billion loan to Pakistan by the International Monetary Fund will be transferred immediately to shore up its economy against a potential meltdown, reports said. The money also is needed to keep the government from defaulting on its international debt. Pakistan's already fragile economy has been hit hard by the rising cost of oil and food imports as well as worsening Islamic militancy.

Mining industry giant BHP Billiton "no longer believes" that a $66 billion hostile takeover of rival Rio Tinto Ltd. would be in its stockholders' best interests and is abandoning the effort, it announced Tuesday. The Melbourne, Australia-based company cited as its reason the global economic downturn – specifically plunging demand for raw materials. When it began its quest in February, the deal was valued at $147 billion, which would have been the second-largest corporate takeover in history. BHP will write off $450 million it invested in the pursuit of Rio Tinto, it said.

Members of the cabinet in Kuwait resigned en masse Tuesday, but the oil-rich Sunni state's ruler did not immediately accept their requests to leave government. If he were to do so, it could result in Kuwait's third government in three years. The resignations were triggered by a standoff with parliament over whether Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, the prime minister and a member of the royal family, may be questioned about allowing the recent visit of an Iranian Shiite cleric who is accused of insulting Sunnis.

Authorities in southern Brazil said the number of deaths from flooding and landslides doubled overnight Tuesday to 65. At least 30 other people are listed as missing. Eight communities in Santa Catarina, a wealthy state favored by German and Italian immigrants, remain cut off and supplies of drinking water are dangerously low, the authorities said.

St. Petersburg's image as a high-crime city took a new hit Tuesday after a rush-hour explosion killed three passengers in a taxi and critically wounded the driver. Russia's No. 2 city has a history of racially motivated assaults, and last year a bomb exploded inside a McDonald's outlet, injuring six people. Police opened a murder investigation into the incident, which occurred as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was touring a nearby military post on the border with Finland.

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