Indications that hurricane Dolly would spare oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico helped send crude prices lower again Wednesday. By midmorning on the New York Mercantile Exchange, contracts for future deliveries were selling for $125.78 a barrel – down $2.64 in the past 24 hours and more than $20 since early July. Above, Mexican marines check on storm preparations along a beach on the gulf near Matamoras.

Iraqi Kurds, led by President Jalal Talibani, heaped denunciations on new draft legislation aimed at paving the way for provincial elections later this year. The elections are seen by the US as an important step in bridging Iraq's sectarian divides. But Kurds oppose the measure because it calls for equal ethnic distribution of council seats in areas to which they have historical ties. Talibani and his two deputies on the Presidential Council must ratify the bill before it can take effect.

Newly indicted President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan made his first visit to the Darfur region since the International Criminal Court sought his arrest on genocide charges. He promised to build new highways and an electrical generating plant and said in a televised address: "We all know that injustices happened. But from Day One, we have been working to provide stability for all the people" of the region. An estimated 2.7 million Darfur residents have been killed or driven from their homes in what the UN says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic wants to be his own defense attorney before the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the Balkans, a source close to him said Wednesday. But a spokeswoman for the tribunal in The Hague said the interests of justice would be best served "if the accused is assisted by qualified counsel." Karadzic is being held in a jail in Serbia's capital, where he has until Friday to appeal his extradition to The Hague. If his trial were to follow the example set by the late dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who also was permitted to represent himself, it could take five or more years.

Demonstrators wanting to protest Chinese government policies and actions – such as in Tibet – may do so in three designated areas at the Olympic Summer Games, officials said Wednesday. But police and Beijing's city government must approve them first, the officials added. Analysts expressed surprise at the announcement, since public protests in Beijing are viewed as challenges to the government's hold on power, and it repeatedly has warned of terroristic threats to the sports festival.

Residents of villages on Thailand's side of a disputed border area with Cambodia were holding evacuation and self-defense drills Wednesday as the ongoing confrontation between the two countries deepened. In appealing for UN Security Council intervention, Cambodian officials said war was imminent, even though both sides have pledged not to resort to force. For its part, Thailand accused Cambodia of harboring ambitions to claim even more of the territory it considers its own.

Every practicing doctor in Britain would have to submit to a yearly competency review under a plan to be announced by the nation's chief medical officer, published reports said Wednesday. The new policy would be the first of its kind in the world and the biggest overhaul of British medical regulations in 150 years. It also would require doctors to apply for license renewals every five years. The plan is aimed at weeding out those who make poor clinical decisions or are burdened with personal problems such as drug or alcohol dependency.

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