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IRAQ

U.S. to seek more Arab backing

STOCKHOLM - The United States will prod Arab states to offer more support to the Iraqi government at a conference in Sweden this week as a way of countering the growing influence of non-Arab Iran in neighboring Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will chair the conference on Thursday, aimed at assessing progress in implementing a plan adopted at a meeting in Egypt last year to help Iraq rebuild after five years of war.

Analysts are watching for any contacts between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, who will be attending the meeting, though U.S. officials say none is scheduled in Stockholm.

Washington accuses Tehran of trying to destabilize the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government by training and arming local militias, a charge Iran denies.

ISRAEL

Olmert denies offer to Syria

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that Israel had made no commitment to Syria to pull out of the Golan Heights in indirect talks that began last year under Turkish auspices.

Israel and Syria announced last Wednesday they had begun indirect talks in Turkey, their first negotiations in eight years.

Syria has demanded the return of the Golan Heights, a plateau overlooking Damascus on one side and the Sea of Galilee on the other. Israel captured the territory in a 1967 war, annexing it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

SRI LANKA

Tamil rebels cited in train bombing

COLOMBO - At least eight people were killed and scores more wounded yesterday in the bombing of a packed commuter train by suspected Tamil rebels in the suburbs of the Sri Lankan capital, officials said.

Hospital officials said eight bodies had been recovered, among them five women, and that more than 72 people were being treated, mostly for burns.

Colombo has been hit by a string of bombings against both civilian and security targets in recent months, with authorities pointing the finger at Tamil Tiger rebels.

IRELAND

Cluster bomb talks target the U.S.

DUBLIN - American activists and global victims of cluster bombs united yesterday in a demand that governments - particularly the United States - ban the weapons because they kill and maim too many civilians.

They made their appeal four days before negotiators from 110 governments are expected to unveil a treaty restricting the development, sale and use of cluster munitions. The pact would be formally signed in December in Norway.

The U.S. says it is willing to accept some limits on the use of cluster bombs but wants an agreement negotiated under existing arms-control treaties.

ETHIOPIA

Mengistu sentenced to death in absentia

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's Supreme Court sentenced an exiled former president - dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam - and 18 officials to death Monday, a prosecutor said.

Yoseph Kiros said the judgment delivered justice for the thousands of people murdered during Mengistu's 17-year rule.

Mengistu, a Marxist leader who was driven from power in 1991 by the current regime, is living in comfortable exile in Zimbabwe and is not expected to be extradited while strongman Robert Mugabe remains Zimbabwean president.

IRAN

U.S. pessimistic on nuclear intent

VIENNA, Austria - Iran has delivered scant evidence to suggest that its atomic drive has no military dimension, a top U.S. official said yesterday.

Reacting to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that said Iran still had to convincingly disprove allegations of military ambitions behind its nuclear activities, Gregory Schulte, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA, complained that Tehran was continuing to stonewall the agency's investigations.

LEBANON

Hezbollah denies seeking control

BEIRUT - Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said yesterday that his powerful militant Shi'ite movement was not seeking control of Lebanon, in a fiery speech on new President Michel Suleiman's first full day in office.

"Hezbollah does not want power over Lebanon, nor does it want to control Lebanon or govern the country," Sheik Nasrallah told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters massed in his stronghold in southern Beirut.

Within hours of the speech, supporters of Lebanon's rival factions clashed in a Sunni district of mainly Muslim west Beirut on Monday night, firing gunshots, a security official told Agence France-Presse.

Future Television, which is run by the camp of parliament majority head and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, said 16 people were wounded in an "attack on civilians" by Hezbollah.

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