World

Political chaos worsened in deeply troubled Somalia as its new prime minister-designate resigned on Christmas Eve and aides to transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf, who appointed him, suggested that he'd follow suit Saturday. Yusuf nominated Mohamed Mohamud Guled early in the week to replace Nur Hassan Hussein, whom he'd fired for willingness to include Islamist militias in the peace process. But Parliament quickly voted to reinstate Hussein, and it was unclear which of them was in charge.

A democratic election for president in Guinea was promised by the Army officers who claim to have seized power – but not until an unspecified date in 2010. The so-called National Council for Democracy and Development said it has "no ambition" to remain in control. But it initially pledged an election within two months and later said its leader would assume the presidency. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare continued to insist that he remains in charge of the government.

A "once-in-a-century economic crisis" means that Japan will not hold an early election, embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso said in outlining his government's proposed budget for 2009. Aso must call an election by next September, but when he took office three months ago it was with the expectation that voters would go to the polls sooner than that. Recent opinion surveys put his public approval rating well below those of his past two predecessors, whose unpopularity caused them to resign.

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A rainy day fund will have to be used to cover Russia's 2009 budget deficit, the first in a decade, an adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev told reporters. Echoing the message, the Interior Ministry warned that a worsening financial situation due to the falling price of crude oil could lead to "a protest mood" among workers who've lost jobs or whose wages were not being paid. Earlier this week, the central bank devalued the ruble for the seventh time in less than a month.

A cutoff of natural gas to Ukraine appeared to be less than a week away, with no sign that Russian suppliers will relent unless the cash-strapped government comes up with $2 billion in overdue payments first. Gazprom, the Russian state utility, disputed Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's claim that it had agreed to postpone the payment deadline until early next year. Meanwhile, Russia's Energy Ministry was urging Eastern European customers to pressure the ex-Soviet republic to avoid a repeat of 2006, when a cutoff left them with gas shortages and Ukraine without supplies.

Thousands of Army troops were fanning out across Bangladesh to keep order amid intelligence reports that the top candidates for Monday's election may be assassination targets. Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who leads the Nationalist Party, said "there is no doubt" that Islamist extremists plan to kill her to disrupt the election. The potential for political violence caused the US State Department to issue a travel advisory for Americans already in Bangladesh or planning trips there.

A Mexican beauty pageant winner's future was unclear after she was caught in a roundup of suspected drug-gang members. Laura Zuniga, who won the Miss Sinaloa title in July, and seven men were riding in trucks stuffed with guns and ammunition when they were stopped at an Army checkpoint just before Christmas. She's due to represent Mexico next July in the Miss International pageant in Chicago. But her sponsor quickly issued a statement distancing itself from her, saying it would await the findings of a police investigation before deciding whether she'd continue as its representative.

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