Junta chief makes nice

YANGON, Myanmar - The leader of Myanmar's ruling junta made his first visit to a refugee camp yesterday, patting the heads of babies and shaking hands with cyclone survivors, amid growing international criticism over the government's handling of the crisis.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, rebuffed so far in attempts to discuss the situation with the junta's leaders, announced he would go to the disaster zone Wednesday to try to ramp up aid efforts.

A senior British official hinted a breakthrough may also be near that would allow foreign military ships to join the relief effort, but warnings grew of a potential second wave of death among children hard-hit by the lack of fresh water and proper shelter.

Myanmar's state-run media lashed out at critics, detailing the regime's response. State television featured footage of junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe inspecting supplies and comforting victims in relatively clean and neat rows of blue tents.

According to the report, Than Shwe traveled from the capital, Naypyitaw, in the northern jungles, to relief camps in the Hlaing Thar Yar and Dagon suburbs of Yangon.

Some survivors clasped their hands and bowed as he and a column of military leaders walked past. At least 78,000 people were killed in the May 2-3 storm and another 56,000 are missing.

In the devastated Irrawaddy delta to the south of Yangon, the situation remained grim.

In the city of Laputta, hundreds of children covered their heads from the rain with empty aluminum plates as they lined up in front of a private donation center. They were given rice, a spoonful of curry and a potato.

"Children only. Please. Children only," shouted a man who pushed back a crowd of adults. He explained they were feeding children and the elderly first because food supplies are limited and adults can still fend for themselves.

Lebanon rivals talking, sort of

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Feuding Lebanese factions traded accusations yesterday while meeting a second day in Qatar for talks in the country's 18-month political crisis.

In discussions between the government, which has U.S. support, and Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Hezbollah's chief negotiator, Mohammed Raad, accused the government of trying to "blackmail" the opposition by raising the subject of Hezbollah's weapons.

"No one opens the door to a debate about" Hezbollah's arms, Raad told the Iranian-backed group's private Al-Manar Television.

However, a member of the pro-government team said no political deal was possible without "serious progress" on the issue of Hezbollah's weapons.

The Qatar-hosted talks are meant to help the Lebanese form a national unity government and elect a compromise presidential candidate. Lebanon has had no president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended in November.

The two Lebanese sides flew Friday to Qatar after a deal mediated by the Arab League that brought an end to a week of violence between Hezbollah's Shiite supporters and pro-government militiamen. Clashes left 67 people dead and wounded more than 200.

Gas up 17 cents in 2 weeks

CAMARILLO, Calif. - A national survey says the average price for regular gasoline rose about 17 cents in the last two weeks.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline on Friday was $3.79 a gallon. Mid-grade was at $3.91, and premium was $4.02. That's according to the Lundberg Survey of 7,000 stations nationwide released yesterday.

For the first time, the survey found average prices for regular gas surged above $4 a gallon in two metropolitan areas: Chicago and on Long Island in New York.

Of the cities surveyed, the cheapest price was in Tucson, Ariz., where a gallon of regular cost $3.48 on average.The highest average price was in Chicago, at $4.07.

Bomb hits U.S. vehicle; 2 die

KABUL, Afghanistan - A roadside bomb hit a U.S. military vehicle yesterday in southern Afghanistan, killing one coalition service member and an Afghan civilian.

A statement from the U.S.-led coalition said another service member was seriously injured in the attack in southern Zabul province. It did not give any further details about the casualties, or say if the civilian killed was a bystander or working with the coalition.

_ PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of an army base in Pakistan's militancy-plagued northwest yesterday, killing at least 11 people including four soldiers, officials said.

'Boneheads' in Taser duel

BOULDER, Colo. - Police say a security company supervisor and a restaurateur shot each other with Tasers in a "bonehead" confrontation over parking.

Officers said neither man needed medical attention after the Saturday confrontation, but Harvey Epstein, 36, co-owner of Mamacitas restaurant, was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing and using a stun gun. *

-Associated Press