Iraq's Presidential Council reversed itself Wednesday and dropped its objection to a law setting up regional elections that could give Sunni Arabs more political power. The move, which came on the fifth anniversary of the start of the war and two days after a visit to Baghdad by Vice President Cheney, was seen as an important boost to US efforts to promote national reconciliation. The election law was approved by parliament Feb. 27. But it was controversial because it gives the central government – rather than local councils – the right to ask parliament to dismiss provincial governors.
Tight security restrictions went into effect in Israel Wednesday as the Jewish state prepared to celebrate the Purim holiday. But although the measures included the closure of border crossings into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there were signs that a new cease-fire with Hamas may be near. A senior Defense Ministry official was in Cairo for discussions on the subject with Egyptian mediators, and Israel reportedly has not ruled out a Hamas demand that it be given a presence at crossings to and from Gaza.
Neighbors Bulgaria, Hungary, and Croatia jointly announced their recognition of Kosovo's independence Wednesday, a move that Serbian leaders acknowledged "with sadness." Canada also extended recognition Tuesday. Against that backdrop, UN police returned to their base in the Serb stronghold of Kosova Mitrovica, which they were forced to flee earlier this week amid the worst rioting so far over independence.
By unanimous vote, members of parliament in Kenya approved the power-sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Odinga probably will take his oath of office as prime minister "within days," sources said. But analysts noted that the enabling legislation allows for their coalition government to be dissolved if either party decides to withdraw. In such a case, there is no provision for a new election.
After five weeks of treatment for his wounds, East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta left a hospital Wednesday, recalling for the first time in public the details of his attempted assassination. Ramos-Horta, who was flown to Darwin, Australia, for emergency surgery Feb. 11, will remain there for an undetermined time as his recovery continues, reports said. Above, hospital staffers pose with him as their director presents a parting gift.
For the third time since December, public services across Greece ground to a halt Wednesday as millions of people walked off their jobs to protest reform of the debt-ridden state pension system. A rally by opponents in Athens drew an estimated 100,000 marchers, some of whom fought with police; about 8,000 more turned out for a peaceful demonstration in Thessaloniki. Parliament is scheduled to vote Thursday on measures that would raise the retirement age for women and offer incentives to keep job-holders working longer.
Eminent science fiction writer Sir Arthur Clarke, who died early Wednesday in Sri Lanka, his adopted home, was one of the first visionaries to suggest the use of orbiting communications satellites and to predict a manned landing on the moon. He is perhaps best known for the hugely popular 1968 motion picture "2001: A Space Odyssey," which was based on a story he wrote two decades earlier. His final novel, "The Last Theorem," was completed earlier this month and will be published posthumously.
Sport Relief, a charity that assists disadvantaged people around the world, received an anonymous one-time pledge of $11 million in its annual appeal for donations, news outlets in Britain reported. The BBC said the gift is believed to be the largest in the history of telethons there. In all, the 2008 campaign raised more than $40 million, its organizers said.