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KABUL — An investigation of alleged fraud in Afghanistan's presidential election was winding down Wednesday, officials said, with no indication that it could overturn a win for U.S.-backed interim leader Hamid Karzai. The results of the probe, and a declaration that Karzai has won a five-year mandate, are expected to be announced over the weekend.


ALGIERS — Suspected Islamic militants decapitated three soldiers in Algeria in an upsurge of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, reports said Wednesday. Security forces killed seven alleged militants in an ensuing operation.


SYDNEY — Foreign Minister Alexander Downer conceded Wednesday that the Iraq conflict may have increased the threat of Australians becoming a terror target, supporting a claim by the country's top spy.


PARIS — France's finance minister, a presidential hopeful, says mosques need state funding and it's time for a century-old law banning financing for religious groups to be modernized, according to excerpts of a new book hitting the shelves today.


BUDAPEST — Hungary banned the sale of its signature spice, paprika, on Wednesday and told people not to use whatever supplies they had at home after more than a pinch of moldy toxin was found in products sold by three companies.


NEW DELHI — Lal Krishna Advani, 77, a Hindu hard-liner who recently was India's deputy prime minister, took over the country's main opposition party Wednesday with a pledge to build a temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque that Hindus razed in 1992, triggering riots that killed thousands of people.


DUBLIN — Ireland's second-largest city, Cork, suffered severe flooding Wednesday as the year's strongest Atlantic storm dumped several inches of rain and brought wind gusts of more than 70 mph.


BEIRUT — Lebanon's new pro-Syrian Cabinet rejected international and domestic criticism — including a fresh American complaint it was "made in Damascus" — as ministers held their first meeting Wednesday to try to tackle the country's political crisis.


AMSTERDAM — Slobodan Milosevic's court-appointed lawyers have asked to quit because they cannot properly defend an unwilling client, leaving the U.N. tribunal in a dilemma over how to conclude the most important war crimes trial in half a century in a way history will judge as fair.


ABUJA — Rebel accusations that new government air raids killed 26 civilians in Sudan's troubled Darfur region cast a pall over peace talks in Nigeria.

DASS — Lawyers for a woman sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery asked an Islamic court in northern Nigeria on Wednesday to overturn the verdict, and the judge said he would issue a ruling in two weeks.


BUCHAREST — A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.8 shook Romania late Wednesday, Romania's Earth Physics Institute said. Authorities said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.


ROSTOV-ON-DON — Prosecutors have charged three police officers with criminal negligence in the seizure last month of more than 1,000 hostages in a school in Beslan, officials said Wednesday. More than 330 hostages died when the Sept. 1-3 seizure of the school by heavily armed attackers ended in a burst of explosions and gunfire.


PATTANI — Facing harsh denunciation from Islamic leaders across Southeast Asia, Thailand's prime minister defended his security forces Wednesday in the deaths of 78 young Muslims in army custody, maintaining troops used a "soft approach" in quelling a riot.


HARARE — Zimbabwe authorities ordered a delegation from South Africa's main labor organization to leave the country on the first day of a scheduled four-day visit, labor officials said.