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Despite announcing plans to take over security operations in every province by year's end, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was confronted Wednesday with one of the most horrific casualty counts in months from new car-bomb attacks. Four blasts in Baghdad killed at least 157 people, 118 of them at a marketplace in a mostly Shiite neighborhood. The blasts came as British forces handed control of relatively quiet Maysan Province to Iraqi units. The province, along the border with Iran, is the fourth to come under Iraqi command to date.

The list of Palestinian prisoners whose release is demanded by Hamas in exchange for freeing an Israeli hostage "creates expectations that we cannot fulfill," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday. His comments appeared to dampen hopes for the early return of Army Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas 10 months ago. The list hasn't been made public but reportedly includes as many as 1,400 names. Olmert said Israel would not release that many.

Muslim militants took heavy casualties Wednesday in a gunfight with Army troops in northern Nigeria. The battle in the city of Kano came as the soldiers retaliated after the militants had set fire to a police station and then ambushed officers who rushed in to respond. Thirteen police died in the incident. It wasn't clear whether the fighting was election-related. Nigerians voted for state and local offices last weekend and are to choose a new president Saturday.

Hard-line President Robert Mugabe punctuated Independence Day celebrations in Zimbabwe with new threats against his opponents. Accusing them of fomenting anarchy, he said "we will never hesitate to deal firmly" with them. He said he'd never cede power to the Movement for Democratic Change or its "pathetic" leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai was beaten severely last month in a crackdown by police that Mugabe said was brought on because of a "terrorist campaign" to overthrow him.


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