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IRAQ / Anti-U.S. cleric's rare outing

Anti-American Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took a rare, public step into the political arena Monday, meeting in neighboring Syria with the man directly challenging Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his office. The talks between al-Sadr, who is nominally allied with al-Maliki, and former premier Ayad Allawi, who heads the heavily Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, appeared to be as much about showing al-Maliki that al-Sadr is keeping his options open as it was about any firm political agreement. Al-Sadr rarely travels outside of his home base in Iran, where he lives in self-imposed exile. Al-Sadr's followers won 39 seats in the 325-seat parliament in Iraq's close national election in March, giving him considerable sway over who becomes the next prime minister. In Damascus, al-Sadr and Allawi appeared complimentary of each other following their meeting - a shocking development given their past animosity. Meanwhile Monday, insurgent attacks killed nine people across Iraq, including a car bomb that exploded near a restaurant and coffee shop in Baqouba.

PAKISTAN / Aid package from U.S. announced

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her visit to Islamabad Monday, sought to convince skeptical Pakistanis that American interest in their country extends beyond the fight against Islamist militants by announcing a raft of new aid projects worth $500 million. The projects, which include hospitals and new dams for badly needed electricity, are part of a $7.5-billion aid effort to win over Pakistanis suspicious about U.S. goals here and in neighboring Afghanistan.

TURKEY / Report: 196 indicted in coup plot

The Turkish state-run news agency says a court has indicted 196 people on charges of plotting to bring down the Islamic-oriented government. The Anatolia news agency says the 968-page indictment, approved by an Istanbul court Monday, accuses the suspects of involvement in an alleged conspiracy in 2003 to create chaos and pave the way for a military takeover. The suspects include some 30 serving or retired military officers. Most were detained in February - but subsequently released - after a national newspaper published allegedly leaked copies of documents detailing their plans.

UNITED NATIONS / Gay rights group accredited

The UN Economic and Social Council has voted to accredit the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission after strong lobbying by the U.S. administration. The 54-member council voted 23-13 to approve the U.S.-based group's application for consultative status. There were 13 abstentions.

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