Karim Kadim, Associated Press
Iraqis visit the Imam Hussein shrine in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, on Saturday, where they are celebrating the Islamic Festival of Muharram.

Iraq: Bill passed on Baathists

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi parliament passed a bill Saturday intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs and collect their pensions, a significant achievement for the divided legislature on an issue still regarded with raw emotion by many Iraqis.

President Bush, in Bahrain on an eight-day trip through the Middle East, and some Iraqi officials described the agreement as an important boost for the prospects of reconciliation between the country's marginalized Sunni Muslim minority and Shiite Muslim majority, which now dominates Iraqi politics.

China: 3,786 killed in mines

BEIJING — Accidents in China's notoriously dangerous coal mines killed nearly 3,800 people last year, state media reported Saturday — a toll that is a marked improvement from previous years but still leaves China's mines the world's deadliest.

A total of 3,786 were killed in mining accidents in 2007 — 20 percent lower than the 2006 toll, indicating the effectiveness of a safety campaign to shut small, illegal mining operations and reduce gas explosions, the Xinhua News Agency quoted the head of China's government safety watchdog as saying.

Iran: 7,200 candidates register

TEHRAN — Some 7,200 people have registered as prospective candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections that are widely seen as a referendum on the rule of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The elections will not change the direction of Iran's nuclear policies, which are increasingly in the international spotlight and determined by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but they will be a key test of Ahmadinejad's hold on power and a harbinger for the 2009 presidential elections. Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said 7,200 people, including 590 women, registered for the March 14 elections.

New Zealand: Kayak journey

WELLINGTON — Two adventurers arrived at a New Zealand beach on Sunday after paddling more than 2,000 miles from Australia in a kayak — the first such journey by kayak to succeed.

Australians James Castrission, 25, and Justin Jones, 24, spent 62 days crossing the Tasman Sea in their custom built fiberglass vessel and battled strong winds and tides that spun them in giant circles. The two pulled in at Ngamotu Beach near the town of New Plymouth on New Zealand's west coast shortly after midday and were greeted by a clutch of traditional Maori canoes and were welcomed as pioneers by a crowd of about 2,000 kayak enthusiasts.

Pakistan: Journalist expelled

ISLAMABAD— An American freelance journalist and scholar based in Pakistan was ordered to leave the country after writing an article that might have been deemed unflattering to the Pakistani government, according to friends, colleagues and a U.S.-based media rights group.

Nicholas Schmidle, a frequent contributor to Slate magazine and a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, was served with a deportation notice at his Islamabad home Tuesday night and left Pakistan on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

Taiwan: Opposition party wins

TAIPEI — Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party won a landslide victory in legislative elections Saturday, dealing a humiliating blow to the government's hard-line China policies two months before a presidential poll.

President Chen Shui-bian, who has been criticized for aggravating relations with China by promoting policies to formalize Taiwan's de facto independence, resigned as chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party immediately after the extent of the defeat became clear.