World

Nine days of street fighting in Mogadishu have given Somalia's government forces and their Ethiopian Army allies a victory over Islamist militants, Prime Minister Ali Mohamad Gedi claimed Thursday. He said only mop-up operations remain and that an estimated 340,000 residents who fled the fighting could return home. Humanitarian groups say at least 329 people died in the fighting, many of them civilians trapped by crossfire. Final efforts to forge a cease-fire failed Thursday.

A combative Russian President Vladimir Putin made what was assumed to be his final state-of-the nation address Thursday. His term expires next year, and he has dismissed the urgings of supporters that he try to amend the Constitution and remain in power. He said he was suspending Russia's obligations under its arms-control treaty with Europe because of US plans to build a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also blasted "the flow of money from abroad for direct interference in our internal affairs," a presumed oblique reference to US support for pro-democracy groups.

Unless Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Egypt has threatened to cut off relations, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing Palestinian Authority sources. The sources said an Egyptian intelligence official stressed that such attacks only give Israel an excuse for counteroffensives. Hamas declared Tuesday that its truce with Israel was over. Other reports Thursday said "Palestinian armed factions" had renewed their commitment to a truce, but they did not cite Hamas by name.

Saying, "We don't have enough troops to provide security for 1.7 million innocent people," Thailand's Army sought the OK to send 10,000 reinforcements to Muslim-dominated southern provinces. About 30,000 "defense personnel" already are deployed in Yala, Pattaya, and Narathiwat, but they've been unable to stop almost daily attacks by separatist militants against minority Buddhists. Roughly 2,100 people have been killed since the separatists began a campaign of violence in January 2004.

An 11th-hour hurdle arose in Turkey to Friday's election for president. A key opposition party said it will boycott the vote by members of parliament because it wasn't consulted in the nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul by the ruling Justice and Development Party. The latter controls 353 legislative seats, but that isn't enough for Gul to win either of the first two rounds of voting. The Republican People's Party also vowed to challenge the results in court if fewer than the required two-thirds majority of lawmakers are present.

In an about-face, Bangladesh's interim government rescinded its ban on the return home of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It also said her bitter rival, Khaleda Zia, is not under pressure to go into exile. Their respective political parties proclaimed the two moves "a people's victory."

Popular President Ignacio Lula da Silva was cleared by Brazil's top electoral court of wrongdoing in a political scandal that could have cost him his post. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled Wednesday that there was insufficient evidence linking him to an alleged plot by his Workers Party to pay $800,000 for damaging information on high-profile opposition figures. Lula was reelected last October despite the scandal, but his campaign manager resigned.

US oil giant ConocoPhillips appeared headed for a confrontation in Venezuela after it failed to sign an agreement ceding control of its operations there to leftist President Hugo Chávez's government Wednesday. Four other major oil companies – among them Chevron of the US – said they'd yield their majority stakes in projects in the Orinoco River basin. If ConocoPhillips doesn't sign by Tuesday, the state will seize its fields, the Energy Ministry said.

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