Over the protests of Sunni legislators, Iraq's parliament passed a law Wednesday that allows for division of the country into regions. The measure cannot be implemented for 18 months. Sunnis, who boycotted the vote, object to the law on grounds that it will result in sectarian ministates that leave them in an impoverished central zone without resources.

Protestant and Catholic political leaders and the prime ministers of Britain and the Irish Republic opened three days of intensive negotiations aimed at a return to sharing power in Northern Ireland. But if the talks fail to overcome the sectarian mistrust and no agreement is reached by a midnight Nov. 24 deadline, Britain's Tony Blair and Ireland's Bertie Ahern said they'll shut down the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has not met since an Irish Republican Army spying ring in its midst was uncovered in 2002.

Heavy new fighting between Tamil rebels and government troops in Sri Lanka Wednesday, further clouded the resumption of peace talks that both sides have agreed to. Casualties were numerous, with military spokesmen acknowledged that at least 22 soldiers died and 113 others were evacuated for treatment of their wounds. The rebels said Tuesday that any new government offensive would provoke full-scale war. The talks are scheduled for Oct. 28-29 in Switzerland.

Despite their government's latest confrontation with neighboring Russia, voters in Georgia appeared to give President Mikhail Saakashvili and his party an overwhelming victory in regional and local elections, returns showed Wednesday. Saakashvili and his United National Movement had been declining in popularity since their ascent to power two years ago. But the Central Election Committee said they'd finish with just under 78 percent of the vote. The election came as Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow that there would be no letup in punitive measures Russia is imposing on Georgia for its arrest of four Army officers earlier this month on spying charges. But he said Russia would not go to war over the matter.

With futures prices for crude oil dropping on world markets, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced plans to cut production by 1 million barrels a day. Cartel president Edmund Kaukoru of Nigeria said the move would become effective at the end of the month, although members had yet to decide how to reallocate their quotas. OPEC last cut production in 2004, when the per-barrel price was a little over $40. Last July, crude was trading at $78.40. By midday Wednesday, light sweet crude for delivery next month was $58.54 a barrel on European mercantile exchanges.

Pope Benedict XVI has signed an induit, or document giving Roman Catholic priests permission to return to the tradition of conducting Mass in Latin, sources at the Vatican said Wednesday. With few exceptions, priests have conducted Mass in local languages since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. That change was adopted to make the rite more "accessible" to modern Catholics, The Times (London) said. It said the new induithad been anticipated by close observers of the new pope and could lure many disaffected traditional Catholics back into the fold.

At least four people were killed and many others were hurt Wednesday in the head-on collision of a freight train with one carrying passengers near Zoufftgen, France, on the border with Luxembourg. Railway officials said the trains were routed onto the same section of track because of repair work on an adjoining line.

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