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Nearly 70 nations and international bodies pledged $10.5 billion to help Afghanistan fight poverty, improve security and crack down on the drug trade, officials said Wednesday at the end of a two-day conference in London on the nation's future. The pledges were intended to fund the goals set out in a five-year plan delegates signed Tuesday for redevelopment in Afghanistan, which has been torn by decades of war.

KABUL — Avalanches in northeast Afghanistan have killed at least 18 people and destroyed dozens of homes in the past week, a provincial governor said Wednesday. In neighboring Tajikistan, rescuers Wednesday recovered the bodies of six more avalanche victims, raising the death toll there to 18, an official said.


LONDON — A jury began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a firebrand Islamic cleric charged with inciting the murder of Jews and other non-Muslims and fomenting racial hatred. Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Masri faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.


HONG KONG — A chicken illegally smuggled across the border from mainland China has died here of bird flu, Hong Kong officials announced late Wednesday in a case that raises new questions about whether Chinese provincial officials are concealing the extent of the disease.


TBILISI — Rival lawmakers in the Georgian capital's city council brawled during a debate over the energy crisis suffered by the country in recent days. The fight Tuesday between members of the National Movement ruling party and opposition lawmakers erupted as the opposition criticized President Mikhail Saakashvili's government for how the crisis was handled.


JAKARTA — Naval vessels picked up 114 survivors from a passenger ferry that went down in rough seas in eastern Indonesia, but there was no sign late Wednesday of dozens of others still missing, rescuers said. Groups of worried relatives flocked to the port in Kupang, where the ferry originated, to greet survivors as they disembarked from two navy ships. Many needed medical treatment after spending hours in the sea or hanging on to debris or lifeboats, witnesses said.


DUBLIN — The Irish Republican Army has halted violence but is still gathering intelligence on enemies and remains deeply involved in organized crime, according to a report published Wednesday by Britain and Ireland. The Independent Monitoring Commission's 46-page report raised doubts about when the outlawed IRA will disband in support of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord and its central goal: power-sharing between the province's British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority.


RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel froze the transfer of millions of dollars in tax rebates and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian officials said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have promised $33 million in quick aid to ease a severe budget crisis. Saudi Arabia promised $20 million and Qatar pledged $13 million to help the Palestinian Authority pay January salaries to 137,000 employees, a senior Palestinian official said.


TOKYO — A magnitude-5.1 earthquake shook central Japan on Wednesday, but there was no danger of a tsunami, the Meteorological Agency said.


KATMANDU — Nepal's king pledged to hold national elections within 15 months Wednesday — the one-year anniversary of his power grab — and claimed success in fighting communist rebels, despite an overnight attack that killed at least 20 security forces. Scores of police were reported missing after the rebel assault on a mountainous town in western Nepal.


MOSCOW — Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin celebrated his 75th birthday Wednesday and took a shot at U.S. foreign policy, saying Washington is monopolizing world affairs and using force to get its way.


MADRID — A tobacco war triggered by a government drive to curb smoking escalated Wednesday as Spain's leading cigarette manufacturer slashed its prices to retaliate against cuts by its main competitor, Philip Morris.