Latest intelligence report says Iran not hot for nukes

WASHINGTON - Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago in response to international pressure and is "less determined" to develop such weapons than U.S. intelligence analysts had previously thought, according to a national security document the Bush administration released yesterday.

The findings, the consensus view of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast sharply with the picture painted by President Bush, who has lumped Iran in with North Korea and Iraq as part of what he once called an "axis of evil" and recently suggested a nuclear Iran could spark "World War III."

Yesterday's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) gave fuel to the president's political opponents, who have accused him of saber rattling.

Rand Beers, who resigned from Bush's National Security Council just before the Iraq war, said the report should derail any appetite for war on the administration's part, and should reinvigorate regional diplomacy. "The new NIE throws cold water on the efforts of those urging military confrontation with Iran," he said.

Chavez may have lost battle, but vows to continue the war

CARACAS, Venezuela - In gracefully accepting his first electoral defeat, Hugo Chavez is casting himself as a true democrat and deflecting charges of despotism from Washington and critics at home.

But the Venezuelan president isn't pulling back from his socialist agenda, and his opponents - for now - have neither the cohesion nor the clout to stop him.

Chavez narrowly lost a constitutional referendum Sunday that would have enabled him to remain in power for life and drive changes throughout Venezuelan society.

Some leaders might tone down their rhetoric and adopt a more moderate approach to woo their citizens. Not Chavez.

"I want you all to know I'm not withdrawing a single comma of this proposal," Chavez said early yesterday as he conceded defeat. "I will continue making this proposal to the Venezuelan people. The proposal is still alive."

Bodies found near lake that was resort for Saddam pals

BAGHDAD - Iraqi troops unearthed a mass grave containing the remains of 12 people, including a paramedic who disappeared more than a year ago, officials said yesterday, the latest grisly discovery in a former stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq.

More than 100 bodies, including women and children, have turned up since October in the remote desert terrain surrounding Lake Tharthar, a man-made body of water that was a resort area for government officials in Saddam's day. It straddles the predominantly Sunni provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin, about 60 miles northwest of Baghdad.

In search of oil, Sarkozy

apologizes for colonialism

ALGIERS, Algeria - French President Nicolas Sarkozy called his country's past colonial system "profoundly unjust" yesterday in a step toward ending decades of rancor with Algeria, once the crown jewel among French colonies.

France in the past has steadfastly rebuffed entreaties, notably from Algeria, to apologize for an era marked by humiliation and brutality in some colonies.

"Yes, the colonial system was profoundly unjust, contrary to the three founding words of our Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity," Sarkozy said at the start of a three-day state visit to Algeria.

He's looking to seal billions of dollars in contracts with the gas-rich North African nation. He announced that more than $7.3 billion in contracts were to be signed today, among them gas projects and infrastructure initiatives including a long-stalled subway for Algiers.

Wounded Mexican singer shot dead in her hospital bed

MEXICO CITY - A Mexican singer was shot to death in her hospital bed, police said yesterday, the fourth time in a year assailants have killed performers of a popular northern music whose lyrics often focus on drug trafficking and violence.

Zayda Pena, 28, was shot in the heart Saturday in the city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, while recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck received on Friday, police said.

Two people with Pena were killed in the Friday shooting.

Pena headed a band known as Zayda y los Culpables - "Zayda and the Guilty Ones." One of her songs was "Tiro de Gracia," a reference to an execution-style gunshot. *

-Daily News wire services