Tony Blair ended a decade as prime minister of Britain Wednesday, handing his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II and turning the office over to Chancelor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Brown has vowed to reevaluate British policy in Iraq as the centerpiece of a plan to govern with a lighter touch than Blair. The war, and Britain's involvement in it, are highly unpopular at home. Blair, however, left office saying he was sorry for the danger that British forces face there and in Afghanistan but that "they are fighting for the security of this country and the wider world."
Israeli forces killed at least 12 Palestinian militants Wednesday in their first large-scale raid on the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control there two weeks ago. The attack centered on the town of Khan Younis, and analysts said it appeared to signal that Israel intends to keep strong military pressure on Hamas as well as trying to drive it deeper into financial and political isolation.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will visit North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor Thursday, reports said. The facility is at the center of efforts to stop the North's nuclear weapons program, and the visit will be the first since the IAEA was expelled five years ago. But a spokesman for the group stressed that the visit should not be seen as an official inspection. North Korea agreed to close its nuclear facilities in exchange for massive new international aid.
Angry Iranians set fire to more than a dozen gas stations in Tehran to protest the sudden enforcement of fuel rationing. Reports of identical incidents in other cities could not be confirmed. Rationing was to have begun May 21 as the government cut gasoline subsidies by 25 percent, causing prices to spike. Iran's limited refining capacity means that more than 50 percent of its fuel must be imported, and the subsidies have saddled the government with massive costs.
A crackdown on food safety has found more than 23,000 contaminated products, China's government announced Wednesday. It said 180 processing plants that had allowed waxes, industrial acids, and other inedible substances into the products have been closed, although most were small, rural, and unlicensed. Investigators now will turn their attention to processors in the cities, a spokesman said.In an unrelated matter, a crackdown will begin next week on slave labor practices in workshops, brick kilns, and coal mines, a statement posted on the government's website said.
Security precautions were intense in southern Thailand Wednesday for the visit of Muslim World League chief Abdullah bin Abdul Mohsin al-Turki, who was invited by the government for a firsthand look at sectarian tensions there. But his arrival did nothing to halt the spiral of violence in the region. Muslim separatists were blamed for the murder of a soccer team manager, bomb explosions in three grocery stores and an outdoor food stall, and the drive-by shooting of a gas station attendant. A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol also exploded, but too late to cause casualties.
Retailers and transit operators in Zimbabwe were defying a government order to cut prices by as much as half Wednesday, despite the formation of a new police unit to enforce it. The order was announced Tuesday night in an effort to stem spiraling prices, which the Ministry of Trade and Industry said were part of a plot to topple President Robert Mugabe's government. It applies to such basic items as bread, meat, milk, corn meal, bus fares, and newspapers. Zimbabwe's inflation rate, an estimated 5,000 percent, is the world’s highest.
No survivors were found Wednesday in the wreckage of a passenger plane that had been ferrying foreign vacationers between popular tourist sites in Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen said the plane hit a mountain in bad weather Monday as the pilot changed course to avoid storm clouds. The plane had carried 22 people.