LAHORE, Pakistan

Former Pakistani prime minister returns as challenger

Exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned home to a hero’s welcome yesterday and called on President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule before elections, a fresh challenge to the U.S.-backed leader.

“These (emergency) conditions are not conducive to free and fair elections,” Sharif told reporters at the airport after arriving from Saudi Arabia. “I think the constitution of Pakistan should be restored, and there should be rule of law.”

Sharif, the head of one of the country’s main opposition parties, said he had not negotiated his return with Musharraf, who overthrew him in a 1999 coup. Musharraf expelled Sharif when he first tried come back to Pakistan this year.

WASHINGTON

Syria agrees to meet at Mideast peace conference

Arab holdout Syria agreed yesterday to attend a Mideast peace conference called by President Bush to restart talks to resolve the six-decade conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, yet expectations for the summit remained low. The two sides came to Washington without agreeing on basic terms for their negotiations.

Bush invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to separate meetings at the White House today to prepare for the centerpiece of his Mideast gathering – an all-day session tomorrow in Annapolis, Md. It is to be the only time that Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet together, and their three-way handshake is expected to be the conference’s symbolic high point. Bush closes the U.S. effort with a second set of separate Israeli and Palestinian meetings at the White House on Wednesday.

CARACAS, Venezuela

Chavez to put relations with Colombia on hold

President Hugo Chavez said yesterday he is putting relations with Colombia “in the freezer” after its president ended the Venezuelan leader’s role mediating with leftist rebels in the neighboring country.

Chavez said economic relations will be hurt, blaming actions by Colombia’s U.S.-allied President Alvaro Uribe that he said were “a spit in the face.”

“I declare before the world that I’m putting relations with Colombia in the freezer because I’ve completely lost confidence with everyone in the Colombian government,” Chavez said during a televised speech.

NEW YORK

Broadway strike talks pick up again

Negotiations resumed yesterday between striking Broadway stagehands and theater producers struggling to find a solution to their thorny, seemingly intractable labor dispute as theaters faced a third week of dark stages and mounting box-office losses.

Resumption of the talks – after a week of no negotiating – had been announced the day before by Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, and were confirmed by the stagehands union.

More than two dozen plays and musicals have been closed since Nov. 10, when the stagehands walked off the job.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

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