Schroeder, Rival Discuss

Next Step for Germany

BERLIN -- Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel met Thursday but showed no signs of settling a bitter standoff over who won Sunday's German elections and who should lead the country if their parties are forced into a coalition.

With the future of Europe's largest economy at stake, conservative leader Merkel and incumbent Schroeder held exploratory talks for the first time since the vote, weighing with party allies the prospects for sharing power. They agreed to meet again Wednesday.

"The personal question has to be cleared up relatively quickly, and it has to be accepted . . . that Angela Merkel will be chancellor," Edmund Stoiber, head of the Christian Social Union, said after the talks as he stood with Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union.

A few minutes later, Franz Muentefering, head of Schroeder's Social Democrats, said, "We focused on issues but made it clear that we . . . want to govern this nation with Gerhard Schroeder as chancellor."

Merkel's party, coupled with the Christian Social Union, received 35.2 percent of the vote, just edging Schroeder's party, which won 34.3 percent.

ASIA

* LAHORE, Pakistan -- Two bombs exploded about 90 minutes apart in this eastern Pakistan city, killing six people and wounding two dozen, police said. There was no immediate assertion of responsibility.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The number of Indonesians under observation for bird flu symptoms has risen to 16, the Health Ministry said Friday, but added that tests confirmed that a 5-year-old girl who died this week did not have the virus.

Four Indonesians are confirmed to have died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu since July. Of the 16 people under observation, one has been confirmed to have the virus.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A court on Thursday sentenced the last of six Muslim extremists convicted in the 2004 suicide bombing at the Australian Embassy. Syaiful Bahri, 36, was given 10 years in prison for "providing assistance" to two Malaysians, Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top, the alleged organizers of the attack. Both are fugitives.

The bombing killed 10 people and wounded about 200.

THE MIDDLE eAST

* TULKARM, West Bank -- Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinian militants in the West Bank on Friday, Israeli military sources said.

The sources said two militants were shot after they opened fire on troops while trying to flee arrest in a village near Tulkarm. A third, who escaped to another village, was killed later. The sources said the raid was aimed at arresting senior members of Islamic Jihad.

-- From News Services