By MONITOR l ON a visit to Asia for a regional summit President Bush compared Taiwan's economic and democratic achievements favourably with those of mainland China which he was due to visit later. President Bush and President Putin discussed the problems posed by Iran's nuclear programme and agreed that Russia should offer to carry out the critical enrichment process, thus lessening the risk that Iran could itself develop a nuclear bomb. l In Russia President Putin promoted Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov in a government reshuffle; observers predicted that the two men were front runners to succeed Mr Putin when his term of office ends in 2008. l After all–night bargaining US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded Israel to agree to a controlled opening of border crossings from Gaza in order to enable Palestinians to sell their agricultural produce and travel to the West Bank. l Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon said that he would hold early elections in February or March 2006, following the withdraw of the Labour party from his coalition. l In Egypt after the first of three rounds of voting in a general election the banned Muslim Brotherhood, campaigning as independents, semed likely to win one–fifth of the parliamentary seats. l Violence continued in Iraq and US forces found 173 starving and apparently abused insurgent suspects in a government building in Baghdad. On a visit to Britain the deputy prime minister of Iraq suggested that British forces might be able to begin withdrawing by the end of 2006; however it became increasingly apparent that the number of British troops in Afghanistan would have to be significantly increased in the near future. l In the United States calls for US withdrawal from Iraq intensified as President Bush's approval rating fell to its lowest–ever point.


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