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Another Iraqi province was returned to government forces Wednesday by the US military, the second in less than a week. Wasit, on the border with Iran, becomes the 13th of 18 provinces for which Iraq's troops and police now have responsibility for maintaining order. National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said two northern provinces, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, also would be turned over "within weeks."

Casualty figures were rising by the hour Wednesday after a powerful early morning earthquake struck southwestern Pakistan. Authorities said at least 175 people had been found dead, with the injured numbering in the hundreds. An estimated 15,000 others were left homeless after the 6.4-magnitude quake leveled their villages in Baluchistan Province. Strong aftershocks were felt throughout the day. The temblor was Pakistan's strongest in three years. In October 2005, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed an estimated 73,000 people.

Witnesses reported seeing Congolese government soldiers forcibly seizing private cars Wednesday in their haste to flee the eastern provincial capital of Goma. Fighters loyal to rebel Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who has threatened to take the city, could be heard attacking targets less than six miles away with rockets and mortars, causing thinly stretched UN peacekeeping troops to retreat. The government claimed the rebels were being aided by troops from neighboring Rwanda, but the latter denied that.

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Terrorists driving explosives-packed cars attacked a UN compound and four other targets in northern Somalia Wednesday, killing themselves and at least 23 other people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, which appeared to be synchronized and occurred as representatives of the interim government were meeting with other African leaders in Kenya to explore methods for ending years of turmoil in the lawless nation.

Despite defensive measures, a bold attack by the "air force" of Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels killed a power plant operator and damaged equipment on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo, Tuesday night. An Army base in the north of the island also was bombed, and at least three soldiers were wounded. Analysts said the attacks showed that the rebels still have the will and means to fight even though government troops are closing in on their headquarters.

Interim President Rupiah Banda appeared to be the favorite to win a full term in Zambia Thursday in a special election to replace the late Levy Mwanawasa. But opposition leader Michael Sata was expected to make the voting close with the support of workers in the copper industry, the main source of jobs in the sprawling but impoverished nation. Mwanawasa defeated Sata by 14 percentage points in 2006 but failed to survive surgery on Aug. 19 with three years left in his term.

Opposition leader Mohamad Nasheed, a onetime political prisoner, won the first democratic runoff election for president in the Maldives, ending the rule of Asia's longest-serving leader. Nasheed took 54 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared with 46 percent for incumbent Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who pledged his "full support and cooperation" to the victor. Gayoom won the first round of voting Oct. 8 but by less than a majority.

Qantas, Australia's flagship airline, was defending its safety standards again Wednesday after a 12-hour transpacific flight had to rely on weather data forwarded by a rival carrier. The plane, carrying 280 passengers from Los Angeles to Sydney, was diverted to Auckland, New Zealand, for repairs to its radar. On Oct. 7, a Qantas jet plunged hundreds of feet without warning before the pilot regained control, an incident in which 40 passengers were hurt. In July, an oxygen tank exploded aboard another Qantas flight, opening a hole in the fuselage and forcing an emergency landing.

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