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The kidnappers of three American soldiers are trapped in a farming area south of Baghdad by US and Iraqi troops accompanied by sniffer dogs and supported by air power, a military spokesman said Wednesday. He did not estimate whenthe missing men might be found, however, and Al Qaeda in Iraq has mocked the search effort, saying, "You are only tiring yourself." As the search continued, terrorists exploded a chlorine gas bomb in a busy marketplace in a mainly Shiite town northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens of others.

To a 21-gun salute, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy assumed the leadership of France, ending the 12-year rule of Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy called for national unity in his inaugural address Wednesday and said France needs to "rehabilitate the values of work ... merit, and respect." He cited racism as a priority to be attacked and said, "We need results because the French people ... need improvement" in their daily lives.

Celebrities, political leaders, and even crewmen from the last train to cross the border between the two Koreas in 1951 are expected to be aboard Thurs-day as the rivals carry out an historic test aimed at restoring rail service through the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Barring a last-minute delay, as happened last year due to objections raised by the North's military, two trains will travel 15 miles across the DMZ in either direction before returning. South Korea agreed to provide $86.5 million worth of aid to win the North's OK for the test run.

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The new government of Serbia was dealt a disappointment by the European Union, which said more progress on arresting war-crimes suspects is needed before talks on being accepted into membership can resume. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who won parliament's OK for his Cabinet nominees only hours earlier, had hoped the negotiations could begin immediately. But EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn said only that Serbia had taken "a step in the right direction" by pledging to arrest such fugitives as Gen. Ratko Mladic, whom the UN tribunal for the Balkans has charged with atrocities in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Under heavy security, schools across southern Thailand opened for the new academic year Wednesday, except in areas especially vulnerable to separatist violence or needing to be rebuilt because of arson attacks. But, citing Education Ministry officials, the Bangkok Post said no contractor has been willing to commit to the rebuilding effort, meaning that soldiers will be asked to do the work. Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin estimated that 5,000 militants are responsible for the trouble but said he's ready for peace talks with their leaders.

Blaming shortages of fertilizer, fuel, and tractors, Zimbabwe's government admitted that less than one-tenth of its goal for this year's winter wheat crop has been planted. Planting season ends May 31, and the Agriculture Ministry warned that shortages of bread and flour would worsen in a nation where inflation is at 2,200 percent and basics have become luxuries.

Thousands of protesters were back in the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico, Tuesday, marking the first anniversary of the strike that hobbled the historic tourist city for five months last year. They returned to an old theme – that unpopular state Gov. Ulises Ruiz must resign – and vowed to disrupt a traditional folk festival held every July. Nine people died in strike-related violence before federal troops restored order in October.

A powerful earthquake struck rural western Laos Wednesday afternoon, apparently causing few, if any, casualties. But the 6.1-magnitude quake swayed high-rise buildings as far away as Bangkok, Thailand, 430 miles to the south, causing people to evacuate.

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