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World datelines


CANBERRA — Indonesia's embassy in Australia was closed Wednesday after a package containing what authorities described as a "biological agent" was delivered there. Officials linked the incident to outrage over the conviction in Bali of an Australian woman on drug charges.


LONDON — The British military reduced the sentences of two soldiers imprisoned for abusing Iraqi civilians suspected of looting an aid warehouse in 2003, the Ministry of Defense said Wednesday in a case compared to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal involving U.S. forces. The Army Reviewing Authority reduced Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley's sentence from two years to 18 months, the ministry said. Fusilier Gary Bartlam's 18-month sentence was reduced to 12 months' detention at a military correctional training center.

Costa Rica

SAN JOSE — Eighty-eight South Americans lost at sea while trying to reach the United States were rescued after tying a message in a bottle to a passing boat's fishing line, and authorities were returning them to Ecuador, Costa Rican officials said Wednesday. The migrants were adrift for three days after being abandoned by smugglers because their vessel was taking on water.


PARIS — France's new prime minister tried to form a government Wednesday to tackle the country's top priority of unemployment, but he faced the immediate challenge of an impending national rail strike in his first day on the job. The appointment of Dominique de Villepin — a globe-trotting, silver-haired statesman who seems to epitomize France's privileged class — was criticized as a move by a leadership playing "musical chairs" in a bid for survival, rather than a courageous choice to deal with the country's problems.


PORT-AU-PRINCE — Gunmen killed a French diplomat who was driving in Haiti's capital and stole his car, the latest example of rising violence in the hemisphere's poorest country, the French Embassy said Wednesday.


JERUSALEM — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas underwent heart angioplasty in a Jordanian hospital on Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official said. Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top Abbas aide, said the procedure was successful.


BISHKEK — About 200 people, some throwing stones, broke into Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court on Wednesday and evicted activists who had occupied the building for more than a month in a protest on behalf of five losing parliamentary candidates.

North Korea

President Bush's pledge to use diplomacy to resolve tensions over North Korea's nuclear programs was applauded by South Korea on Wednesday, but the communist North kept up its complaints about Washington's stance. Citing U.S. pressure about its nuclear program, North Korea asked the South to reduce from 70 to 30 the number of officials it sends to Pyongyang this month for a celebration of the historic 2000 summit between the two Koreas, South Korea's Unification Ministry said.

South Korea

SEOUL — South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk said Wednesday he plans to open a stem-cell bank by the end of the year to help speed up the quest to grow replacement tissue to treat diseases. The bank would consolidate current stem-cell lines in one research location. To treat a patient, researchers would look for a cell line that provides a close match to a patient's immune system, Hwang said.


BERN — Swiss authorities have halted a 3 1/2-year investigation into a now-defunct Muslim-run financial firm that the United States suspected was helping fund the al-Qaida terror network, the Federal Prosecutor's Office said Wednesday. Authorities did not provide details on why the investigation into Al-Taqwa Management Organization, which was renamed Nada Management Organization, was stopped.


BANGKOK — Four Thai Muslims were acquitted Wednesday of belonging to an al-Qaida linked terrorist organization and plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy and tourist destinations in Thailand.