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Radical cleric seeks peaceful coexistence

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's anti-American Shiite cleric launched an initiative Saturday calling for peaceful coexistence among all Iraqis..

Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militiamen were blamed for sectarian killings during the worst years of Iraq's violence, is seeking to assert his political weight in post-war Iraq.

The initiative comes as a government crisis has strained ties between two main Muslim sects, Sunnis and Shiites, to the breaking point. The Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki is engaged in a showdown with the top Sunni political leader in the country. His government has issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi for what al-Hashemi says are trumped-up charges.

Al-Sadr's proposal comes just two days after a terrifying wave of Baghdad bombings killed 69 people and wounded nearly 200. Al-Sadr's associates handed out to the media a 14-point "peace code" proposal written by the radical cleric. It warns against spilling Iraqi blood and urges respect for all religions, sects and ethnic groups.

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Thousands take part in funeral for 44

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Thousands of mourners carrying Syrian flags and pictures of the dead took part in a mass funeral Saturday for 44 people killed in twin suicide bombings that targeted intelligence agency compounds in Damascus.

The government of President Bashar Assad said a preliminary investigation pointed to al-Qaida and that the bloodshed and destruction in the capital bolstered its argument that terrorists, rather than true reform-seekers, were behind the anti-government revolt.

The opposition, meanwhile, grew fearful that the regime was taking advantage of the distraction caused by the bombings to move in military reinforcements and prepare for a massive assault on key activist areas in central Syria. Shelling in the city of Homs on Saturday killed at least three people in the Baba Amr district and set several homes and shops ablaze, activists said.

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Saleh says he will leave to allow for elections

SANA, Yemen -- President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Saturday he would soon leave Yemen for the United States to help make way for elections for his replacement, even as forces loyal to him opened fire on protesters, killing at least nine.

Demonstrators had marched for four days from the city of Taiz, a major opposition center, to the capital, Sana, to demand that Saleh face trial for the deaths of scores of protesters in the government's crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising.

Under an agreement reached last month, endorsed by the United States and Persian Gulf nations, Saleh is to be granted immunity in return for stepping down after elections scheduled for Feb. 21.

As thousands of demonstrators entered Sana chanting, "No to immunity," shots rang out. Witnesses said troops loyal to Saleh used guns, tear gas and water cannons to prevent protesters from approaching Saleh's compound.-- Los Angeles Times