World

The long-awaited security crackdown in Baghdad opened without a formal announcement – a US military spokesman saying Wednesday that portions of it have been in place since early January and that it would build gradually "as the forces arrive and the assets become available." At the same time, Iraq's Foreign Ministry said four "military officers" had been detained and were being questioned about the kidnapping earlier this week of a senior diplomat from Iran's embassy.

Even the hosts doubted that North Korea and the US have made sufficient progress in settling their differences for there to be optimism as six-sided talks on the former's nuclear weapons program resume Thursday in Beijing. "I have changed my view ... to pessimistic," a senior Chinese arms-control official told a news briefing. US negotiator Christopher Hill said he expected "hard bargaining" on the proposals that will come up for discussion, "[and] we'll see how we do." The talks are expected to last up to four days.

Palestininan Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the top leaders of Hamas opened critical negotiations at Islam's holiest site Wednesday on forming a unity government. Saudi officials, who invited them to Mecca, said the talks could take up to three days. But even if a deal is reached, skeptics doubted it would hold once the parties returned home. Back in the Gaza Strip, gunmen from Hamas and from Abbas's Fatah movement were threatening each other and digging in for what observers said could be particularly fierce fighting if the negotiations fail.

A worldwide network of traffickers in child pornography has been broken up, Austria's Interior Ministry said Wednesday. At a news briefing in Vienna, officials said the ring involved 2,361 people in 77 countries who paid a Russian website to download videos showing "the worst kind of sexual abuse." Many then were distributed to other computer-users, they said. The largest number of suspects – 607 – are American, the officials said. In Austria alone, investigators seized almost 2,700 DVDs and diskettes, 213 videocassettes, and dozens of computers.

Floodwaters receded enough in some neighborhoods of Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday for residents to return and begin cleaning up the mud, debris, and rotting belongings from their homes. But running water and electrical service had yet to be restored, and police identified 30 areas of the capital and its suburbs where flooding was still too deep for recovery efforts.

Violence worsened Wednesday in southern Nepal, where police fired into a crowd of demonstrators for autonomy, killing at least two and wounding 16 others. The BBC reported that three more died in a fight between rival groups of protesters. In Kathmandu, the capital, Prime Minister G.P. Koirala and other political leaders were to meet for a second day on ways to quiet the region. But they reportedly had yet to agree on how much representation the southerners should have in the national government.

In what may have been a retaliatory attack, gunmen dressed as Army commandos bluffed their way into law-enforcement agencies in Acapulco, Mexico, Tuesday and fatally shot seven of the people on duty. Analysts theorized that the assaults were carried out by drug-gang enforcers. New President Felipe Calderón ordered thousands of troops to the region last month to crack down on drug-related crime.

Police were considering whether road rage may explain the third letter-bomb explosion in Britain in three days – each targeting a business office connected with automobile licensing or traffic regulation. The latest, Wednesday at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority in Swansea, Wales, injured three employees. In all, seven such devices are known to have been mailed over the past three weeks. At least seven people have been hurt.

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