Amid revelations that coalition forces in Iraq have, in fact, found weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaeda claimed that it executed four Russian Embassy employees who were kidnapped earlier this month. It said they were killed because the Kremlin had not met a demand to withdraw its forces from Chechnya. Meanwhile, Iraqi police freed 17 of the more than 30 people kidnaped Wednesday en route home from the factory where they worked. A US intelligence report made public Wednesday said 500 "munitions weapons" of mustard or sarin gas had been found since 2003, all apparently of pre-1991 vintage.

President Hamid Karzai appealed Thursday for international help in extending the counterterrorism war beyond Afghanistan's borders, saying the current spike in violence "is largely because of foreign factors." He did not elaborate, but his government accuses neighboring Pakistan of not doing all it can to rein in Taliban and Al Qaeda members before they conduct cross-border attacks. Afghanistan is experiencing its worst violence since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, with more than 1,000 deaths reported since Jan. 1 – among them four US soldiers who were killed Wednesday.

Tamil rebels may insist that cease-fire monitors from European Union countries be excluded from Sri Lanka, but the government "rejects such demands outright," a spokes-man said Thursday. It was not clear what effect the government's position would have on the situation, however. The monitors all come from Nordic nations and are led by Norway. Norway's embassy in Sri Lanka announced that a special meeting of EU representatives had been scheduled for June 29 to consider the Tamil demand. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said they would no longer cooperate with monitors from the EU because the latter had declared them a terrorist organization. More than half the members of the monitoring mission come from EU members Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

Without explaining why, one of Thailand's six deputy prime ministers quit Thursday, becoming the second member of the caretaker government to leave in two weeks. Also deepening the nation's political crisis, the Election Commission ruled that the party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra violated at least one law by paying smaller rivals to field candidates in the April 2 vote for seats in parliament. That election was boycotted by the major opposition parties as a way of denying Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai bloc a majority. The matter now will go before the nation's highest court, which could order Thai Rak Thai to be disbanded, barring its candidates from running in a new election scheduled for October.

Adding a new twist to the political turmoil in East Timor, President Xanana Gusmao said he'd resign as soon as Friday if the prime minister does not give up his office. Gusmao had demanded a day earlier that Mari Alkatiri quit or be fired for his handling of the weeks of violence that has torn the tiny nation. In a letter, Gusmao contended that Alkatiri had lost the trust of the Timorese. Aides to Alkatiri indicated at the time that he probably would comply. Instead, he won the backing of his political party in an emergency meeting Thursday, from which he emerged saying he would not quit. His party, Fretilin, has an overwhelming majority in the legislature.

Results of a new opinion poll showed leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador opening up a lead that suggests he is pulling away from his rivals in Mexico's presidential race. Obrador led ex-Energy Minister Felipe Calderon by 5 percent – 2 points more than in the same poll a week ago. Roberto Madrazo of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party was third. Calderon was ahead in April and May, but has been damaged since by allegations that while he served in President Vicente Fox's Cabinet, his brother-in-law avoided paying taxes and enjoyed financial favors. Mexicans are due to go to the polls July 2.

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