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Kosovo will declare independence from Serbia with Western backing after the Feb. 3 Serbian presidential election if the nationalist candidate wins, political sources said on Wednesday. Ethnic Albanians in the breakaway province reportedly want to make the announcement before European Union foreign ministers meet Feb. 18 to discuss transition efforts by the UN, which has run Kosovo since the 1998-99 war.

China deployed nearly 500,000 troops Wednesday to assist areas struggling after the country's worst winter storm in five decades. Although no more than a foot of snow fell in some places, many were ill-equipped to handle it, with severe power shortages leading to factory closings and slowdowns. Complicating matters is the approach of the Lunar New Year, which begins Feb. 7 and has already overburdened railways with millions of travelers. Above, soldiers shovel snow on the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing.

Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month, the government announced Wednesday, a milestone in mending relations with Aborigines, who were forcibly taken from their homes under past assimilation policies. The move was opposed by the previous administration, which felt that apologizing for the relocation of aboriginal children between the 1870s and 1960s could lead to reparation claims.

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South Korea's President-elect Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday he intends to hire 23,000 new English teachers by 2013 and make a $4.2 billion investment in upgrading English education over the next five years in an effort to improve national competitiveness.

Venezuelan police successfully ended a standoff Tuesday with four gunmen who held dozens of hostages for more than 30 hours after an attempted bank robbery went awry. The men surrendered after releasing the hostages and being intercepted during a high-speed chase.

An Italian court on Wednesday cleared former Premier Silvio Berlusconi on a charge of false accounting related to the sale of the SME state food conglomerate in the 1980s, before his entry into politics. Berlusconi is pressing for early elections that he hopes will return him to power after the fall last week of Romano Prodi's center-left government.

Iran's judiciary chief has ordered a halt to public executions unless they have his approval, his spokesman said Wednesday, but hangings behind prison walls are expected to continue as part of an effort to discourage murder, drug smuggling, and rape. The edict appears aimed at lowering the public profile of an increasing number of executions.

Israel says it wants Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, the surviving members of the Beatles, to participate in a concert celebrating the country's 60th birthday. The band had been booked to appear in 1965, but the government refused to grant the necessary permits on the grounds that its music might corrupt the country's morals.

In some of Haiti's most impoverished neighborhoods, cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal, according to an Associated Press report about coping with rising food costs in the region. Cookies are a bargain at 5 cents apiece, but depending on them for sustenance risks malnutrition, some doctors say. Above, a woman prepares dirt cookies on the roof of a former prison.

British volunteers will countmolehills in September as part of a study of the animals organized by the People's Trust for Endangered Species, according to BBC News. The trust wants to map the locations of the much-maligned, subterranean mammals, which wildlife experts consider beneficial because of the way they aerate the soil and eat insects, even if they sometimes infuriate gardeners.

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