Christians step up pressure for representation in Iraq government

BAGHDAD - A top Shiite lawmaker urged parliament Monday to restore quotas for Christians and other small religious communities on ruling provincial councils that voters will select in balloting by Jan. 31.

Parliament had dropped the quota system, in place in six of Iraq's 18 provinces, citing a lack of census data on how many Christians, Yazidis and other religions were still in those areas.

But Christians, believed to comprise less than 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, complained that the change would effectively exclude them from representation in a political system where most people vote along religious lines.

Taliban, Afghan officials meet in Saudi Arabia

KABUL, Afghanistan - A former Taliban ambassador said Monday that the hard-line militants sat with Afghan officials and Saudi King Abdullah over an important religious meal in Saudi Arabia late last month as the insurgency raged back home.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, denied that the get-together could be construed as peace talks. But President Hamid Karzai has long called for negotiations with the Taliban, and the meeting could spur future initiatives.

With U.S. and NATO forces suffering their deadliest year so far in Afghanistan, the top U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, said Monday that the war 'has to be won through political means.'

Military: Suicide bomber kills 27 in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - A suicide bomber who hugged a former army general before detonating his explosive-laden vest killed 27 people gathered in a crowded opposition party office in northern Sri Lanka on Monday.

The attack by a suspected rebel came as government troops, in the midst of an offensive against the Tamil Tigers de facto state in the north, closed in on the rebels' administrative capital of Kilinochchi, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The bomber blew himself up as officials from the opposition United National Party gathered to open a new office in the northern town of Anuradhapura. The blast killed retired Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera, his wife and 25 others, including a television journalist covering the event. It wounded at least 80 people, Nanayakkara said.

Pakistan to deport all Afghans from tribal region

KHAR, Pakistan - Pakistan ordered the deportation of about 50,000 Afghan refugees in an insurgency-wracked tribal region amid a major military offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

The government said it was expelling all Afghan refugees in the Bajur tribal region, alleging many of them have links to militant groups. Police in the town of Khar in Bajur arrested 25 Afghans and said they would soon be deported.

A government offensive in Bajur that began in early August has claimed some 1,000 lives. It comes amid increased U.S. pressure on the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to crackdown on militants in the restive border region where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Russia steps up preparations for Georgia pullout

TBILISI, Georgia - Russian forces stepped up preparations Monday to withdraw from bases and checkpoints surrounding two separatist regions in Georgia, four days before a deadline being closely watched by the West.

Moscow must pull back thousands of troops from buffer zones surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Friday under the terms of a deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Russia left troops in the areas after they routed Georgian forces during an August war.

Three Europeans share Nobel prize for medicine

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Three European scientists shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for separate discoveries of viruses that cause AIDS and cervical cancer, breakthroughs that helped doctors fight the deadly diseases.

French researchers Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier were cited for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, in 1983.

They shared the award with Germany's Harald zur Hausen, who was honored for finding human papilloma viruses that cause cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women.