The director of state security in Moscow pledged to carry out President Vladimir Putin's order that the killers of four Russian Embassy employees in Iraq be hunted down and destroyed via "all necessary measures." Putin announced the order Wednesday without offering any hint on how it might be implemented, since Russia isn't a contributor to the coalition forces there. But he said he hoped Russia's friends would provide information to help identify the executioners of the embassy employees, who were seized in Baghdad last month. Video footage of their deaths was posted on an Islamist website last weekend. The captors had demanded the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Chechyna in return for freeing the four.

At least 17 people died in a fierce battle at sea between government naval units and Tamil separatist rebels off western Sri Lanka Wednesday – the latest clash in an apparent return to the brink of all-out civil war. A Navy spokesman said the fighting was so intense that helicopter gunships had to be summoned and that they sank two Tamil boats, each with six men aboard. On land, rebel forces fired on an Army patrol, killing one soldier and wounding three others, a government security official said. The rebels confirmed only the naval battle but denied that any of their men were among the victims. They have said they will not tolerate intrusion into what they consider their territorial waters.

Thousands of angry supporters of former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri abandoned a march on East Timor's capital Wednesday, but not before engaging in new violence. Reports from Dili said dozens of buildings were aflame and that there was fighting between the supporters and opponents of the unpopular prime minister, who quit under pressure Monday. But after his resignation – as President Xanana Gusmao was considering whom to put in charge of a caretaker government – Alkatiri appeared on national television, urging his supporters to descend on the capital. Gusmao's wife, Kirsty, criticized those remarks as "inflammatory" and said they had a "very, very unnerving effect."

TV and radio stations were saturated with ads for Mexico's presidential candidates Wednesday, the final opportunity for campaigning that is allowed by law. Candidates may not even be interviewed in the news media until Sunday, when polls open in the nation's most fiercely contested race since before the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) began 71 years of uninterrupted rule in 1929. Leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had opened a five-point lead in late opinion surveys, was back in a dead heat with conservative Felipe Calderon. PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo, although third in the polls, represents the party that still is Mexico's largest. Obrador's aides predicted his rivals would use fraud to try to defeat him. Incumbent Vicente Fox is barred by the Constitution from seeking a second six-year term.

Hundreds of people clapped and cheered as visiting President Vojislav Kostunica of Serbia pledged that his people will never surrender the volatile province of Kosovo, even though they're in the minority and live in enclaves guarded by heavily armed NATO peacekeepers. Security was tight for Kostunica's appearance at a ceremony commemorating an epic 14th century battle over Kosovo between Christian and invading Ottoman armies, and ethnic Albanian protesters called it a "provocation." The UN is sponsoring negotiations between Serbs and Albanians on the province's future, and Kostunica told British Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this week that Western pressure on Serbia to grant Kosovo independence would fail.

An explosion ripped through another coal mine in northern China Wednesday, killing at least 22 men and injuring 37 others, the official Xinhua news agency said. Five miners had yet to be accounted for, it said. The latest accident – in a year that is worsening China's reputation for the worst mine safety record in the world – came as authorities said they had recovered the remains of the final victim from another mine that flooded May 18, killing 56 people. Almost 80 percent of mining fatalities in any given year occur in China, reports said.

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