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CHINA

BEIJING -- China's cash-strapped government will be reaching even deeper into its overstretched pockets this year as the country struggles to spend its way out of recession, the finance minister said.BEIJING -- Twenty-three people were killed and five injured in two coal mine explosions in China's central Hunan province, the China Mining News said on Wednesday.

ITALY

NAPLES -- A man tunneled into a post office in southern Italy and was shot to death as he emerged near an off-duty police officer who was standing in line. The officer said the man had a gun in his hand.

BUSTO ARSIZIO -- Someone in a little town in northern Italy hit on an unusual way to get rid of grandpa's old war souvenirs: They left them in a church confessional.

KAZAKHSTAN

ALMATY -- A U.S.-based human rights group dismissed the election process in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan as "grossly unfair" on Wednesday, just four days ahead of the controversial presidential poll.

FRANCE

PARIS -- Sales of French gourmet foods have entered the electronic age, with a company in rural France offering truffles, foie gras and other delicacies over the Internet.

CHINA

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong authorities said on Wednesday they had seized $2.39 million worth of heroin and arrested six people in two incidents this week.

BEIJING -- A large cargo truck overturned on a highway in China's remote western province of Qinghai, killing 31 herdsmen and injuring 16, the official newspaper Legal Daily reported Wednesday.

PHILIPPINES

MANILA -- Philippine state lawyers on Wednesday appealed to the Supreme Court to allow the execution of a child rapist, saying it had exceeded its authority by stopping what would have been the country's first execution in decades.

MANILA -- The U.S. government has relocated several offices in metropolitan Manila for security reasons, the U.S. Embassy said Wednesday.

INDIA

NEW DELHI -- India's civil aviation authorities have quietly put a modern air traffic control system in Delhi into operation, but controversy over its reliability was rumbling on.

SWITZERLAND

ZURICH -- Swiss banks said on Wednesday they would put up $4 million to help create a computerized list of millions of names of Holocaust victims in a bid to match dormant wealth to its rightful owners.

TURKEY

ISTANBUL -- Turkey's Justice Ministry said on Wednesday it had issued a decree to the country's prosecutors banning the much-maligned practice of forced virginity testing on women.

ALGERIA

ALGIERS -- Troops have killed 40 of about 100 rebels they have been besieging in a forest in southwestern Algeria, a local daily said on Wednesday.

RUSSIA

MOSCOW -- The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in a Christmas Eve message, called on the government on Wednesday to find a way out of the country's present chaos and to ease the suffering of an increasingly desperate people.

MOSCOW (AP) -- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov would be the top two contenders if a Russian presidential election were held now, according to a poll released Wednesday.