World

Smoke rose over a Baghdad neighborhood Wednesday as US and Iraqi forces battled Sunni gunmen in "a preplanned security operation" the morning after President Bush's State of the Union address. Two Sunnis were killed in the fight and 11 others were captured, some of them described as "foreigners." Still, aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the comprehensive plan to bring lasting security to the capital has not started. In another development, the Sunni minister of higher education in Maliki's government escaped an assassination attempt Wednesday in Baghdad.

Cleanup crews removed tons of debris from Beirut's streets Wednesday, a sign that calm was returning to the Lebanese capital after the violence of the day before. But the atmosphere was tense and new fighting was reported between supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government in the northern city of Tripoli. For his part, Siniora flew to Paris for Thursday's meeting of would-be donors from 35 Western and Gulf nations. He hopes to raise $5 billion to help pay Lebanon's debt and rebuild areas destroyed in last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah.

Gunmen from Hamas and Fatah fought in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, three days after their leaders reaffirmed opposition to "the spilling of Palestinian blood." At least four people were wounded and Fatah claimed damage to one of its offices from a grenade explosion. The rivals had restarted negotiations on forming a unity government Tuesday in what Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called "a conciliatory spirit."

Mortar shells rained down on the airport in Somalia's capital, killing or wounding about 10 people, witnesses said one day after military units from neighboring Ethiopia began returning home. Their withdrawal will take weeks to complete, The Washington Post reported. The Post also said a US Air Force AC-130 gunship attacked suspected Al Qaeda remnants in southern Somalia for the second time in three weeks, but the Pentagon would not confirm the report.

New leftist President Rafael Correa of Ecuador was advised by a senior US official to avoid provoking countries and other creditors that want to help improve conditions there. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said Correa has an opportunity to develop a responsible government "as opposed to creating an environment in which there's ... confrontation." Correa has called Ecuador's $11 billion debt "illegitimate," fueling concern that he will default on payments. Meanwhile, he also reacted angrily to a court decision that his planned referendum on rewriting the Constitution must be OK'd by the opposition-controlled Congress.

Senior military officials in Guinea-Bissau denied sending troops across the border to intervene in the growing confrontation between President Lasana Conte of Guinea and protesters trying to force his ouster. Such a move would be "unthinkable," a spokesman said, noting that Conte's Army already is larger "and does not need ... reinforcements." Conte was in "emergency" talks with union leaders who are demanding his resignation, but it was unclear what he could offer them to call off their two-week-old strike. They already have rejected his offer to cut the price of fuel, increase pay for teachers, and root out corruption in police ranks.

Travel by air, train, and car was disrupted across Europe as the second set of heavy snowstorms in less than a week brought a halt to to the Continent's unseasonably warm weather. At least three people were killed in weather-related accidents on German autobahns. Electricity was expected to be restored Wednesday to users in Austria, but in France utilities couldn't say when downed power lines would be back in service.

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