Twenty Taliban guerrillas were killed in the early stages of an operation by NATO and Afghan government forces Wednesday to flush the militant organization out of villages it seized earlier this week. But two Afghan officers also died in the fighting, which was expected to last up to three days. Speaking by phone, a Taliban spokesman said the objective of the guerrillas, many of whom broke out of prison a week ago, was Kandahar, the nation's second-largest city, about 12 miles from the scene of the fighting.

At least 63 people died in the worst bombing in Baghdad in three months, but the Iraqi government said Wednesday that the attack only stiffens its resolve "to maintain the security achievements." So far, there has been no claim of responsibility for the blast in a Shiite neighborhood, and – based on the method and explosive used – US military spokesmen said they did not believe Al Qaeda was behind it. They blamed a renegade group and suggested it was trying to incite new sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunni Muslims.

Two other African leaders, Raila Odinga of Kenya and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, bluntly criticized Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Odinga called on him to resign before next week's runoff election, which Zuma said is unlikely to be fair. Meanwhile, the chief of the pan-African observer mission that will monitor the runoff said it is Mugabe's responsibility to stop preelection violence and that he won't endorse the outcome if it does not.

Bowing to the demand of striking farmers, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez agreed late Tuesday to send her controversial tax increases on soybeans and other grain exports to Congress for debate. Her Peronist Party controls both houses of the legislature, however, and farmers worried that the move would only result in ratification. In the meantime, the unpopular tax hike will remain in effect.

Police in Bangkok, Thailand, warned they'll use tear gas and fire hoses to break up a massive antigovernment protest Friday planned by the People's Alliance for Democracy. Labor union leaders called on their members to join the demonstration to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Piling further pressure on Samak, whose coalition government is four months old, the opposition Democrat Party filed a motion of no-confidence in parliament Wednesday.

Despite eradication efforts paid for by the US, coca production in Colombia rose last year by 27 percent, a report said Wednesday. Coca is the base ingredient in cocaine. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime called the finding "a surprise and a shock ... because it comes at a time when the Colombian government is trying so hard to eradicate" the crop. Analysts attribute the increase to farmers finding ways to minimize the effects of aerial spraying.

Soldiers and Air Force units were struggling to evacuate thousands of people from submerged villages in eastern India Wednesday and to ferry or parachute food and drinkable water to others stranded by heavy rains. More than 300,000 were reported homeless, and at least 29 deaths so far are blamed on the early arrival of monsoon season.

A startup fund of almost $200 million was announced by the governments of Britain and Norway to help preserve the world's second-largest tropical rain forest, the Congo Basin. The money will be administered by the African Development Bank over a 10-year span. The Congo Basin is a vital ecosystem and an important economic resource for 10 countries.

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