Germany's President Agrees to Early Ballot

BERLIN -- Germany's president agreed Thursday to dissolve parliament and hold early elections next month that could give the country its first female chancellor.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had sought the early balloting, saying he had lost the mandate to govern after his Social Democrats lost a key regional contest on May 22.

President Horst Koehler agreed, and elections are scheduled for Sept. 18.

Schroeder's chief challenger will be Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union, who is leading in public opinion polls by about 17 or 18 points, giving her a chance to become Germany's first female chancellor.

THE MIDDLE EAST

* NABLUS, West Bank -- Palestinian security forces arrested a Palestinian on suspicion of stabbing a 12-year-old boy to death in the West Bank, after saying earlier that witnesses had blamed Jewish settlers.

The suspect was from a family involved in a feud with the dead boy's family, police said.

AFRICA

* HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Police raided church halls in Zimbabwe's second-largest city, rounding up people who had been sheltering there since their homes were destroyed. Meanwhile, a U.N. report condemned Zimbabwe's government for destroying urban slums in a "disastrous venture" that has left 700,000 people without homes or jobs, and demanded that those responsible be punished, according to excerpts obtained by the Associated Press.

EUROPE

* -- A man arrested after a shootout with police admitted in video footage shown Thursday to throwing a grenade during a May 10 rally where President Bush was making a speech.

Vladimir Arutyunian's alleged confession came as investigators found grenades and chemicals in his home near Tbilisi, the capital.

Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili were on the podium in front of a massive crowd in downtown Tbilisi's Freedom Square when the live grenade was thrown but failed to explode.

* BERLIN -- German prosecutors said they were probing whether purported CIA agents who allegedly kidnapped a radical Muslim cleric ever touched German soil, possibly widening a case that is already straining U.S.-Italian relations.

If prosecutors find the abductors touched German ground while passing through Ramstein Air Base -- considered U.S. territory -- they will launch a formal inquiry that could lead to new charges, one said.

* MOSCOW -- The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the return of a religious icon from the Vatican.

With thousands of faithful massed in Kazan, Patriarch Alexy II led a colorful ceremony and turned over to the city's church authorities the Mother of God of Kazan icon, which was returned to Russia last summer in a goodwill gesture.

ASIA

* SEOUL -- North Korea said Friday that establishing a peace agreement to replace the cease-fire that ended the Korean War would also resolve its nuclear standoff with the international community.

-- From News Services