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Taliban militants claimed responsibility for downing a NATO helicopter in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province and for ambushing a police convoy. But NATO spokesmen called the claim that 35 soldiers were killed in the incident "absurd." They put the number of casualties at seven. Sixteen policemen were killed in the ambush, which also took place in a southern province and was the deadliest of its type in months.

Allies of Syria and the government in Damascus itself reacted angrily as the UN Security Council voted to set up a special court for suspects in the murder of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Senior Syrian officials are implicated in the crime, and their government has said it will not hand them over for trial. Lebanon's parliament speaker, who has close ties to Syria, said the Council had ignored a need for consensus on the issue. Hizbullah called the vote a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty. But other Lebanese set off fireworks in celebration.

Parliament in Turkey voted for the third and final time Thursday to OK a popular election for president. But the issue still faces two hurdles. Some lawmakers threaten to ask the Constitutional Court to void the vote on procedural grounds, and incumbent President Necdet Sezer, who opposes the idea, can veto it. Parliament heretofore has chosen the president, but last month secular lawmakers twice kept the only candidate from obtaining the needed margin of victory out of concern for his Islamist ties.

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Moving to end the political standoff in Ukraine, embattled President Viktor Yushchenko gave parliament until midnight Thursday to approve measures necessary for an early election. Otherwise, he warned, he and his allies would quit the legislature, triggering an automatic election in 60 days. Yushchenko and his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, agreed last week on a Sept. 30 election to decide which of their coalitions would control parliament. But legislators from both sides have obstructed the enabling laws.

Hobbled by a limited budget, the special UN-backed court for ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor was preparing to open his war-crimes trial Monday in The Hague. For his involvement in neighboring Sierra Leone's civil war, Taylor faces murder, rape, terrorism, and other charges. But unlike other tribunals, this one isn't financed by the UN and must appeal for funds from its member governments. The chief prosecutor warned that the court will have to release Taylor "if they run out of resources and can't continue the trial."

The cease-fire in Sri Lanka is "flawed" and must be amended by its Norwegian brokers or the government may pull out of it in the next few weeks, a government spokesman warned. Tamil rebels, who agreed to the truce in 2002, have refused to consider any amendments. Their all-but-declared civil war has killed an estimated 4,000 people in the past year, and analysts said an abrogation of the pact by the government almost certainly would lead to greater violence.

Political parties in Nepal announced agreement on holding the nation's crucial election by year's end. A precise date will be set "soon," sources said, indicating that Prime Minister G.P. Koirala had proposed Nov. 26. Under a peace deal with the former communist rebel movement, the vote was to have been held June 20, but elections officials complained that there wasn't enough time to organize it by then. Nepalis will be asked to choose a constituent assembly that will draft a new Constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy, which the communists seek to abolish.

While some curbs on dissent will stay in place, the six-month-old state of emergency in Fiji was to end at midnight Thursday, military ruler Frank Bainimarama announced. But news reporting that is considered likely to cause alarm will continue to be censored and public gatherings without a permit still will not be allowed.

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