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Israel will freeze construction of some new settlements in the West Bank in another goodwill gesture to Palestinians before their peace talks later this month, reports said Wed-nesday. But the move, under US prodding, probably won't cover areas that the Jewish state wants to keep in a final accord, the Haaretz newspaper said. Against that backdrop, parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill that would up the number of votes needed to yield parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians from the current 61 to 80.

Returning to the offensive against a planned missile shield in eastern Europe, senior Russians called the US "evil" and warned that they may target American military sites with a new generation of their own tactical weapons. "Any action inevitably meets a reaction," Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zaritsky was quoted as saying Wednesday, adding that Russia's short-range Iskander missiles could be deployed in Belarus, with which the Kremlin maintains close ties. Belarus borders Poland, where part of the US shield would be built. The Iskander is believed capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Police in the capital of Chad fired tear gas Wednesday to disperse protesters demanding a trial for French aid workers accused of trying to kidnap children they believed were Darfur war orphans. The protest began peacefully (above) but turned violent, with participants hurling rocks at the cars of white foreigners, reports said. Many of the children turned out to be neither orphans nor from Darfur.

A security guard died Wednesday when a suspicious plastic bag that he'd picked up exploded outside the hall in Tajikistan's capital where an international conference on disaster preparedness was about to open. The conference was called off, and authorities in Dushanbe said they'd treat the incident as an act of terrorism. The mostly Muslim former Soviet republic has been calm in recent years, although a civil war was fought there in the mid-1990s. The explosion occurred on the 15th anniversary of President Emomali Rakhmon's ascent to power.

Voters in Denmark returned the Liberal-Conservative coalition of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to power in Tuesday's election. But its margin of victory – six seats in parliament – was barely enough to give it a majority. Reports said Rasmussen was considering whether to try to increase it by inviting the participation of a new Muslim-led party that advocates more humane treatment for asylum-seekers.

The first bales of wood pulp came off the production line of a $1.2 billion mill that has soured relations between Argentina and Uruguay for the past two years and is still being challenged in the International Court of Justice.Last Friday, tens of thousands of Argentines marched to the river separating the two countries for a final protest of the facility, which environmentalists claim will pollute the waterway. Above, the mill looms behind Uruguayan guards blocking the bridge over the river.

A new World Bank study of Africa concludes that its overall economic growth is steady enough "to put a dent" in the poverty rate and "attract global investment," the BBC reported. It quoted a senior bank official as saying, "Africa has learned to trade more effectively with the rest of the world, to rely more on the private sector, and to avoid the very serious collapses ... that characterized the 1970s, 1980s, and even the early 1990s." The official warned, however, of a potential split between affluent and "stagnant" nations if investment isn't sustained for the long term.

A powerful earthquake rocked northern Chile Wednesday. Initial reports put its magnitude at 7.7 and said it was felt as far south as Santiago, the capital, 780 miles away.

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