In a restive northwest Pakistan valley, troops and militants battled Wednesday in a conflict that reportedly killed dozens and undermined the new government's disputed strategy of offering peace deals to pro-Taliban insurgents. The Army announced an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew throughout the Swat Valley, a day after militants abducted at least 25 police and paramilitary troops.

North Korea faces its worst food crisis since the late 1990s because of flooding and poor harvests, putting millions at risk, the UN's World Food Program said Wednesday. The organization said it would launch an international appeal for aid, this after 400,000 metric tons of US food has already been shipped. During the 1990s, an estimated 2 million North Koreans died of hunger because of natural disasters and econmic hardship.

An Al Qaeda front group in Iraq has posted an Internet statement denying responsibility for recent suicide bombings against Shiite Muslim pilgrims. The Islamic State of Iraq also said it is starting a campaign in the northern city of Mosul.

South Korean-Japanese tensions increased Wednesday when the South Korean Navy conducted defense drills around a cluster of islands located about halfway between the Asian neighbors. Both claim rights to the islands, which may sit above valuable deposits of natural gas.

Officials investigating an in-flight oxygen cylinder explosion on a packed Quantas jetliner, which managed a safe emergency landing in Manila last week, said the plane lost the use of landing instruments after the blast. One investigator said their failure would have made landing "extremely difficult" if conditions over Manila had been cloudy or foggy. The plane was en route from London to Melbourne.

A landslide parliamentary election victory in Cambodia last weekend risks damaging the country's fragile democracy, human rights groups said Wednesday. By winning 90 of 123 seats, the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for 23 years, could assert one-party rule, rights activists said.

British Airways PLC and Spain's Iberia SA said Tuesday they are in merger talks that could ultimately lead to a three-way trans-Atlantic combination with American Airlines. The two carriers, which are long-term partners, said that joining forces may be the best way to deal with anticipated slowing earnings and high fuel costs.

Zimbabwe's hyperinflated currency is being overhauled to avoid affecting operations of the country's computer systems, the central bank said. Ten zeros will be knocked off the currency to turn 10 billion dollars into one, this after a new 100 billion-dollar note was introduced last week that isn't enough to buy a loaf of bread.

A number of a rare bird species in Europe have been moving north over the past 25 years in apparent response to changing climate, a team of British scientists said Wednesday. The birds are thought to be in the vanguard of likely huge shifts in plant and animal habitats.

A plan for Paris drivers to share a fleet of 4,000 electric cars by late 2009 or early 2010 was announced this week. The city would run the Autolib program that would allow people to rent cars from one of 700 lots.

A British man accused of hacking into Pentagon computers lost his appeal Tuesday against extradition to the US. American prosecutors claim that Gary McKinnon committed a series of costly cyber-attacks on military networks.

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