Egyptian Court Rules in Favor

Of Use of Monitors in Election

CAIRO -- An Egyptian court ruled Saturday that nongovernmental groups would be allowed to monitor the nation's first multi-candidate presidential election next week.

The court also referred parts of a contentious law regulating Wednesday's vote to another court to determine their constitutionality.

Both decisions, which can be appealed, were seen as victories for private organizations seeking to monitor the vote and independents challenging the election law.

Hafez Abu Saada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, praised the court's decision on monitors. "The election cannot be considered fair and free unless it's transparent, with clear and public procedures," he said.

The Middle east

* BEIRUT -- Syria invited the chief U.N. envoy investigating the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri to visit Damascus and meet with Syrian authorities.

Despite denials by Syria and its Lebanese allies of involvement in the killing, Damascus has been accused of failing to cooperate with a U.N. investigation team headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who has said he is willing to meet Syrian officials in their country.

* GAZA CITY -- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Middle East peace talks should resume immediately after Israel completes its Gaza withdrawal and expressed hope that a Palestinian state would be established by next year.

"We live off hope," Abbas said. "And we hope that a Palestinian state can be achieved next year, God willing. What is important is to have the state."

Abbas also pledged to bring diverse militias from the ruling Fatah movement under central control within three weeks.

ASIA

* BEIJING -- Chinese President Hu Jintao postponed an official visit to Washington next week because of Hurricane Katrina, but he and President Bush agreed to meet on the sidelines of a U.N. assembly in New York later this month.

The move upset Hu's plans to try to polish Beijing's image in Washington amid strains over textile imports, China's growing economic and military power, human rights and other issues. It would have been Hu's first U.S. visit since becoming president in 2003.

Africa

* KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Armed men attacked and robbed an aid convoy traveling in western Darfur and threatened to kill aid workers if they used the same route again, a senior official with one of the aid groups involved said.

The incident on Thursday in the Masteri area, southwest of Geneina, was the most serious in a recent spate of attacks against aid vehicles in Sudan's Darfur region, where rebel groups are fighting the government.

-- From News Services