Residents of NATO countries "need to understand" that the alliance isn't engaged in a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Rice said Wednesday. She told a news conference in London that NATO is in a long, difficult fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists. Rice is seeking to repair a rift among NATO allies whose participation in Afghanistan has been unequal. The US and Britain supply more than half of the 42,000 NATO troops there.

Angry opposition leaders in Kenya threatened new protests to block a meeting of African foreign ministers because it could be seen as official approval of President Mwai Kibaki's disputed reelection. The opposition complained that it hadn't been consulted about the gathering, although ex-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, mediating talks between Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga, had pledged that no such meeting would take place until all sides were notified.

Using temporary supplies of electricity, millions of Chinese began celebrating the Lunar New Year Wednesday, and many others finally found transportation home after more than a week of the worst winter storms in 50 years. Almost 90 deaths were blamed on the weather, and the loss to the economy was put at $11 billion. Above, Beijing residents in heavy coats walk among rows of New Year's lanterns.

Parliament in Italy was dissolved Wednesday by President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi (l.), and the latter's cabinet scheduled an election for April 13-14 to choose a new government. Prodi's 20-month term was the second shortest in recent Italian history, and opinion polls suggest that his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, would win reelection by as many as 16 points if the new vote were held today.

Saying, "Certain politicians are ... filing for divorce before the marriage has even been agreed," the European Union called off a signing ceremony for closer relations with Serbia. A pact on trade and economic assistance was to have been formalized this week. But nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica denounced it as a sop to compensate for the imminent loss of breakaway Kosovo Province. Kostunica's move has brought the coalition government in Serbia to the brink of collapse.

Rebel forces in Chad vowed that their campaign to topple President Idriss Déby would not be deterred by French troops and warned that they'd "legitimately defend" themselves if attacked. France previously has offered support to Déby and has UN Security Council authorization to do so again if necessary. But Defense Minister Hervé Morin, in Chad to meet with Déby, denied claims that French jets already had struck rebel targets.

For announcing that he'll challenge President Robert Mugabe in next month's election, the ruling party of Zimbabwe expelled former Finance Minister Simba Makoni Wednesday. State-controlled news outlets attacked his criticisms of Mugabe as "a shrine of lies." But diplomats suggested that his candidacy was part of a deal with the president to siphon support from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

India will spend $150 million over the next five years to try to reverse a steep decline in its endangered tiger population, the government announced. Hunting and human encroachment on dwindling habitat has seen the tiger population shrink from 40,000 a century ago to no more than 1,500 today. Funding will be used to relocate villages and tribal communities and establish eight new tiger reserves.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who died late Tuesday in the Netherlands, rose to fame by introducing Transcendental Meditation to the West. At his death, the movement had built schools around the world, a business empire estimated to be worth billions of dollars, and a political party that is active in dozens of countries. He attracted such followers as the Beatles and film stars Mia Farrow and Shirley MacLaine.

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