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Wednesday, March 15

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors.

Lunchtime murder-suicide at California Denny's leaves 3 dead

(CNN) -- A man believed to be a transient opened fire at lunchtime Wednesday inside a Denny's Restaurant in Pismo Beach, Calif., killing two men and wounding a husband and wife before killing himself, police said.

Between 30 and 40 people were in the restaurant when the man, identified Tuesday night as 60-year-old Lawrence Woods, entered with "guns blazing," said Cmdr. Jeff Norton of the Pismo Beach Police Department.

The man then turned the gun on himself, he said. The married couple was treated and released from a hospital. The men who died were ages 65 and 73, police said. (posted 11:25 a.m.)

Harris stays in Fla. Senate race, vows to tap her personal fortune to win

(CNN) -- U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris said Wednesday that she plans to stay in Florida's Senate race -- and will pour $10 million of her personal fortune into the campaign.

"I'm staying. I'm in this race. I'm going to win," she said in an interview on Fox News, dismissing recent speculation that she planned to leave the race.

The Republican congresswoman from Sarasota said she would use the $10 million "legacy" left to her by her late father, George Harris Jr., to close a fundraising gap with Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, vowing to use "everything that I have" to beat him. "This levels the playing field," Harris told Fox News.

Harris gained national prominence during the 2000 presidential election dispute in Florida. At the time, she was secretary of state, and she made a controversial decision certifying President Bush as the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes, which clinched the White House for him. -- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston contributed to this report. (Posted 9:59 p.m.)

Rice discusses China, Iran on Australia trip

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday called Iran a "central banker of terrorism" and called on leaders of the Islamic state to heed international calls to resume negotiations focusing on its nuclear program.

Rice, in Australia for trilateral talks Saturday between the United States, Australia and Japan, spoke at a joint news conference with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer after a bilateral meeting. She also called for China to be more transparent about its military buildup, citing a 14 percent spending increase as a cause for concern.

In the trilateral talks, the issue of China's growing military, economic and political influence is expected to be discussed. Rice said the U.S. would continue to work closely with China on global issues, such as North Korea's nuclear program, but would not hesitate to raise issues of concern. But, she said, the United States believes China should pay attention to economic issues such as intellectual property rights, its currency regime and government control of some business sectors. -- By Grant Holloway, CNN Sydney (Posted 9:48 p.m.)

Jackson comes up with back pay for Neverland workers, avoids lawsuit

(CNN) -- For workers at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch who have been waiting impatiently for their pay since December, Thursday is likely to be a thriller.

Jackson's representatives will distribute more than $306,000 in back pay to employees Thursday, averting a threatened lawsuit by the California Department of Industrial Relations to recover the money, a department spokesman told CNN Wednesday.

However, Neverland employees still won't be able to go back to work, because Jackson has yet to secure workers' compensation insurance. Last week, state officials slapped a stop work order on the ranch because coverage had lapsed. --CNN Senior Producer Dree De Clamecy contributed to this report. (Posted 8:58 p.m.)

Northwest Airlines denies allegations it shortchanged employee pensions

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Northwest Airlines on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing amid a U.S. Department of Labor investigation into allegations it shortchanged employees out of their pension benefits.

The airline issued a response after a the Labor Department disclosed earlier this month in a bankruptcy filing that the investigation into NWA's compliance with Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 was underway. Northwest (NWA) said it has managed its pension plans lawfully. "Until its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing on Sept. 14, 2005, Northwest paid in full and on time all amounts due and owing to its pension plans," the airline said.

It blamed a "confluence of events" beyond its control for underfunded employee pensions, including a stock market slump; a sharp decline in interest rates, which increased future funding obligations; and a pension-funding law requirement that NWA said dramatically shortens the time companies have to eliminate pension-funding deficits. -- From CNN Assignment Editor Jonathan Schienberg (Posted 8:43 p.m.)

Grassfire in Texas Panhandle burning toward Oklahoma

AMARILLO, Texas (CNN) -- A new grassfire erupted in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle Wednesday, apparently rekindled from the embers of a blaze firefighters thought was out, according to the Texas Forest Service.

Firefighters have been battling blazes in the Panhandle since Sunday that have scorched more than 863,000 acres. The most recent blaze is approaching the Oklahoma state line, fanned by gusty northeast winds. It began began in Roberts County north of county road 283, and jumped the Canadian River into rural Lipscomb County, which is mostly unpopulated, authorities said. Evacuations were possible, they said.

The National Weather Service issued a "red flag warning" Wednesday for parts of the Texas Panhandle and much of Oklahoma, including its panhandle. Such a warning means conditions are ripe for fast-moving wildfires. -- CNN Correspondent Ed Lavandera contributed to this report. (Updated 7:43 p.m.)

Financial dispute threatens progress on rebuilding World Trade Center site

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Plans to start construction next month on the signature Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site are being threatened by a dispute between state and local officials and the private developer who holds the lease on the site.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16-acre site in Lower Manhattan, failed to reach an agreement with developer Larry Silverstein on a financial plan for its redevelopment, including the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower and as many as four other buildings designed to replace 10 million square feet of office space destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

New York Gov. George Pataki, who promised Silverstein $1.67 billion in tax-free bonds to underwrite construction, had set a Tuesday deadline for reaching an agreement. The governor said he was "deeply disappointed" that negotiations had broken down -- and pointed the finger at Silverstein.

But Silverstein insisted he had cooperated with demands by the Port Authority to relinquish part of his lease and share some of the insurance proceeds his company received after the terrorist attacks. He also complained that while he has continued to pay $120 million in annual rent on his lease, the authority has not prepared the site for new construction. -- From CNN Senior Producer Phil Hirschkorn (Posted 7:35 p.m.)

Prosecutors seek reconsideration of Moussaoui trial ruling

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors filed a motion Wednesday asking a federal judge to reconsider what they called a "terribly excessive" ruling barring all witnesses and evidence related to aviation security in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.

Prosecutors said her sanction was "disproportionate to the prejudice that the defendant could conceivably have suffered in this case."

The 22-page motion filed with U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema asked her to retract or at least reduce the penalty against the government as a result of Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla Martin's meddling with the aviation witnesses after the trial began last week.

Six of those witnesses, including two that prosecutors intended to call and four the defense sought to testify, appeared in a special hearing Tuesday to assess the damage. (Posted 7:12 p.m.)

Turbulence, weather prompt diversion of Northwest flight

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Northwest Airlines flight headed to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport from Detroit was diverted to Dulles International Airport in Virginia because of turbulence and weather conditions in Washington, the airline said Wednesday.

Flight 230, an Airbus A320 aircraft with 148 passengers and a crew of five aboard, landed normally, said a Northwest statement. Three passengers "were ill upon landing" and were taken to area hospitals, the statement said. No injuries were reported. (Posted 6:54 p.m.)

Massachusetts governor offers bill to exempt religious organizations from state adoption laws

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney proposed legislation Wednesday that would exempt religious organizations from a state law that currently compels them to provide adoption services to gays and lesbians.

In a letter to the Massachusetts House and Senate, Romney, a Republican, said he offered the measure in response to Catholic Charities' decision "to terminate their adoption program because the legal requirement that gays be given equal consideration as prospective adoptive parents violated their deeply held religious beliefs."

"This bill will allow religious institutions to continue to be licensed to provide adoption services in the commonwealth without violating the tenets of their faith," Romney wrote the Bay State Legislature. --From CNN Political Editor Mark Preston (Posted 6:28 a.m.)

Justice Ginsburg acknowledges death threat against her, O'Connor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has acknowledged a specific death threat against her and her retired colleague Sandra Day O'Connor, from a Web chat site that Ginsburg called "the irrational fringe."

The remarks came in a speech Ginsburg gave in South Africa recently, when she discussed her occasional reference to international law when looking at high court rulings. She noted opposition to the idea by some members of Congress, adding it "is disquieting that they have attracted sizable support."

She said the court's marshal, Pamela Talkin, alerted her and O'Connor to a February 28, 2005, Internet posting by an unidentified person to his fellow "commandoes" urging a "patriotic assignment."

According to Ginsburg, the Web author criticized the justices' prior reference of international laws, saying, "This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. ... If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week." (Posted 6:03 p.m.)

Lunchtime murder-suicide at California Denny's leaves 3 dead

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A man opened fire Wednesday inside a Denny's Restaurant in Pismo Beach, Calif., killing two people before killing himself, police said.

Between 30 and 40 people were in the restaurant when the man entered with "guns blazing," killing two males and wounding two other people, said Cmdr. Jeff Norton of the Pismo Beach Police Department. The man then turned a gun on himself, he said.

In a written statement, Denny's said the shooting "appears to be a random act of violence." Pismo Beach is in San Luis Obispo County, about three hours northwest of Los Angeles. -- From CNN's Dan Simon (Updated 6:53 p.m.)

Bush to name acting FDA head to post permanently

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, who has been acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration since September, will be nominated by President Bush to hold the post permanently, the White House announced Wednesday.

The nomination requires Senate confirmation.

Von Eschenbach, a urologic surgeon, has been serving as both acting FDA commissioner and director of the National Cancer Institute, a post he has held since 2002.

The nomination of von Eschenbach drew quick fire from the liberal activist group Public Citizen, which issued a statement saying he "has been warmly embraced by the regulated industries, especially the pharmaceutical industry." The group also took issue with a pledge by von Eschenbach to eradicate cancer by 2015, saying it was "not realistic" and amounted to "cruelly raising people's hopes." (Posted 5:18 p.m.)

U.N. report: Al Qaeda in Iraq wants to launch attacks wherever it can

(CNN) -- A new U.N. report said Wednesday that al Qaeda in Iraq is aiming "to launch attacks wherever targets are available" and that some "senior fighters have left Iraq to gather existing supporters and these fresh recruits into new cells."

The report came from a U.N. task force set up to monitor al Qaeda and the Taliban. It said that "both the core al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and the more active leadership in Iraq are making efforts to extend their influence."

The report also said U.N. member states are getting better at implementing sanctions, including travel bans and freezes on assets of suspected terrorists, but disparities remain.

Forty-five countries -- including 24 African nations -- have not reported to the United Nations on their anti-terrorism efforts, the report said. --From CNN Senior Producer Henry Schuster (Posted 5:08 p.m.)

Officials still seeking info on Alabama mad cow

(CNN) -- Two days after announcing they had discovered a third case of mad-cow disease in the United States, Alabama officials said Wednesday that they still have not determined the cow's age, its herd of origin, whether it had siblings or whether it had offspring, and plan to dig up the cow's body to learn more about the animal.

In a written statement, Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks and State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said their original report identifying the cow as a Santa Gertrudis was wrong.

"The animal in question was a red crossbred cow and not a purebred Santa Gertrudis as previously reported," they said. "Had she been a registered animal, traceback would have been easier."

They added, "In this case, it will be necessary to exhume the carcass to take additional samples that will be used to confirm the age of the animal." (Posted 4:54 p.m.)

Bush opposes pushing back Medicare drug plan deadline

SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNN) -- Medicare's prescription drug benefit has cost taxpayers less than predicted, President Bush told Maryland seniors Wednesday, but he said he opposes extending the May deadline for recipients to sign up without a financial penalty.

"There's got to be a fixed time for people to sign up," Bush told residents of a Maryland retirement community in a town hall-style appearance. "We want people to realize now's the time."

The program's Jan. 1 launch was fraught with controversy: Officials in 29 states had to step in to make sure low-income seniors were getting their prescriptions filled, usually by extending coverage under state-run Medicaid programs for the poor, according to the National Association of State Medicaid Directors.

The program has since moved past those "early snags," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Wednesday. But complaints about the program have persisted, particularly from seniors grappling with the decision of which federally subsidized insurance plan to join. (Posted 4:28 p.m.)

Justice's 5-year report documents sharp increases in human trafficking cases

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales vowed Wednesday to step up federal efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States, and declared the campaign to end "the modern-day form of slavery" a top priority.

In a speech in Chicago, Gonzales declined to estimate the number of human traffickers in the United States, but said the practice of enslaving foreigners -- often women and girls for sexual exploitation -- occurs much too often.

He said prosecutions have risen sharply, and authorities have helped nearly 1,000 human trafficking victims in the past five years.

Gonzales released an 89-page report that documents a sharp rise in investigations, prosecutions and convictions in the years 2001 through 2005. During that period the Justice Department filed 91 trafficking cases and charged 248 defendants, so far convicting 140 of them. --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 4:16 p.m.)

Miners back to work at Sago Mine

BUCKHANNON, W. Va. (CNN) -- Operations at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W. Va., resumed Wednesday, more than 10 weeks after an explosion trapped and eventually killed 12 miners, the International Coal Group said.

Miners began reporting for their shifts at midnight, and coal was coming from the mine during the day.

ICG, the mine's owners, said Tuesday that its investigation showed that a bolt of lightning triggered the Jan. 2 methane gas explosion. Government investigators have yet to release their findings. (Posted 4 p.m.)

Senator introduces legislation for revenue sharing with Gulf states

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana on Wednesday introduced a Gulf Coast Protection Act that would earmark half of the federal revenue from oil production in the Gulf of Mexico for rebuilding the coasts of states that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

In a telephone news conference, Landrieu said coastal states should have the same revenue sharing provisions as inland states that produce energy.

"Wyoming is expected to receive $1.3 billion this year under the program, while New Mexico's share is expected to approach $700 million," said a statement from Landrieu's office.

Currently, Louisiana receives only one-tenth of 1 percent of the royalties shared with energy-producing coastal states, Landrieu said. (Posted 3:39 p.m.)

Brucia's killer sentenced to death

SARASOTA, Fla. (CNN) -- Following a jury's earlier recommendation, a Sarasota County circuit judge Wednesday sentenced a Florida man to death for killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia after abducting her -- a kidnapping that attracted national attention after it was caught on videotape.

"Based upon your actions, you have forfeited your right to live freely among us in society, and pursuant to the laws of Florida, have forfeited your right to live," Judge Andrew Owens said in sentencing Joseph P. Smith.

Smith, who will turn 40 Friday, showed no reaction as the sentence was pronounced. His victim would have celebrated her 13th birthday Thursday.

"I thought I'd feel a lot different, but it still hurts. It doesn't change anything," said Steve Kansler, Carlie's stepfather, after the hearing. Still, he said, he was relieved at the sentence. "I wanted death because I want to watch him die. That'll be my closure, so to speak, watching him die. If I could pull the trigger, I would." (Posted 3:29 p.m.)

One person injured in explosion at British bank in Turkey

(CNN) -- One person was injured Wednesday in an explosion at an office of British bank HSBC in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbarkir, authorities said.

The person who was injured was a passerby, officials said.

The windows of the bank were blown out and there was some damage inside, but there was no fire, according to a CNN Turk journalist at the scene. (Posted 2:33 p.m.)

27 charged, child porn Web site shut

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Twenty-seven people have been charged with online child pornography offenses and an Internet chat room that streamed video of live child molestations has been shut, federal authorities announced Wednesday.

Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said all but one of the defendants has been arrested following an undercover sting operation aimed at closing the Web site known as "Kiddypics and Kiddyvids."

"We plan to prosecute them and others involved in this vile chat room to the fullest extent of the law," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters in Chicago. Seven victims of molestation have been identified, the youngest of whom was younger than 18 months, he said.

"They are now in safe custody," he told reporters. (Posted 2:26 p.m.)

U.S. soldier killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday in a mortar attack southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The soldier, with Multi-National Division-Baghdad, was killed around 6:30 p.m. "by indirect fire" in the attack. This brings the number of U.S. fatalities in the war to 2,312. (Posted 2:13 p.m.)

Bipartisan group to assess U.S. involvement in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new bipartisan group led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former congressman and 9/11 commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton will examine the current situation in Iraq and produce recommendations for the White House and Congress on how the nearly 3-year-old war can end successfully.

The Iraq Study Group, created and funded by Congress, is designed to lend "fresh eyes" to the debate about the success or failure of the war from people who "love their country more than their party" according to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Wolf -- who first proposed creating the group -- said he has had "extensive conversations" with the White House about the need for such an assessment.

He wants a "second opinion" about the war from a well-known and respected group of Americans -- all of whom long involved in public service. --From CNN Producer Ted Barrett (Posted 12:53 p.m.)

U.N. approves plan for new Human Rights Council

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a plan to create a new Human Rights Council, despite a "no" vote from the United States.

The new human rights body will replace the discredited U.N. body that has included members such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Remaking the former Human Rights Commission was one of the major reforms the United States has been pushing for the United Nations, but U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said of the plan presented that "on too many issues the text was not sufficiently improved." (Posted 12:14 p.m.)

Lawsuit accuses H&R Block of fraudulent practices

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The state of New York filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the accounting firm H&R Block, accusing it of using fraudulent business practices to steer approximately 500,000 customers into IRA accounts that were "virtually guaranteed" to lose money.

Customers who opened the Express IRA accounts were often burdened by unadvertised account fees, making it difficult for their savings to grow, said Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. As a result, he said, 85 percent of the accounts lost money.

H&R Block defended the IRA offering. "Make no mistake -- we believe in the Express IRA product and are proud of the opportunities it presents for our client," H&R Block Chairman and CEO Mark A. Ernst said in a written statement. (Posted 11:28 a.m.)

Canadian forces shoot at motorcycle, kill passenger

(CNN) -- Canadian forces Wednesday confirmed that a civilian passenger in a three-wheeled motorcycle died in southern Afghanistan after a soldier fired shots at the vehicle when it came near his patrol.

The incident -- which took place southwest of Kandahar on Tuesday night -- occurred during a routine Canadian patrol.

The vehicle approached a patrol security cordon after having ignored warnings from an Afghan National Police checkpoint. (Posted 11:15 a.m.)

Dubai company offers new details on sale of U.S. port operations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United Arab Emirates company that agreed last week to "transfer fully" the operations of U.S. ports to an American entity issued a statement Wednesday saying the entity will be an unrelated U.S. buyer.

Some U.S. lawmakers have asked to see Dubai Ports World's specific plans because of concerns that a vague statement the Dubai-based company issued last week could leave a loophole that would allow it to control some U.S. port operations.

According to the company statement released Wednesday, DP World is still entertaining offers and hopes to have the sale wrapped up in four to six months. (Posted 10:37 a.m.)

Milosevic body returns to Serbia; Russian doctor endorses autopsy results

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (CNN) -- A Jat Airways plane bearing the body of Slobodan Milosevic from the Netherlands landed Wednesday in Serbia, where the Milosevic family hopes to bury the former president on Saturday.

Outside a fence at Belgrade Airport, a small group of nationalist Milosevic supporters greeted the plane's arrival, while Socialist Party officials made up the formal party on the airport tarmac, placing the Serbian flag and a spray of red roses atop the coffin amid tight security and a light but steady snowfall.

"The funeral should take place in Belgrade, and we would like it to take place on Saturday, but it depends still partly on the authorities, and we can't say for sure, because for them it's a political issue and they might interfere (with) the decision of the family," said Branko Rakic, an attorney for the family, in Amsterdam before the flight left.

It was still possible the funeral and burial could take place in Moscow, Rakic said, "if the conditions are unacceptable" in Serbia. (Posted 10:34 a.m.)

Saddam Hussein proceeding shut to reporters as Hussein exhorts Iraqis to resist

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein on Wednesday took the stand to testify in his trial and delivered a political pep talk to Iraqis, a gambit that led the exasperated judge to shut the proceedings to the media.

On trial for alleged crimes committed in a 1982 government crackdown that followed an assassination attempt on him, the former Iraqi leader displayed his customary combativeness before the judge closed the proceedings to reporters, briefly allowed them back in, and later adjourned the trial until April 5.

Called to take the stand in the internationally televised trial, Hussein took the opportunity to ratchet up the political rhetoric. He urged Iraqis to join together and fight the occupying forces, comments that dovetailed with the fears of national unity cracking in light of the sectarian violence that has been raging in Iraq since the Al-Askariya Mosque -- a Shiite shrine -- was bombed on Feb. 22.

Hussein -- who disdained the U.S.-led forces in Iraq -- urged the ethnically and religiously diverse Iraqi people not to fight among themselves.

His musings and exhortations were regarded as incendiary by Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman, who insisted that Hussein focus on the alleged crimes in Dujail, not political arguments against the United States. (Posted 10:01 a.m.)

Abbas says Israeli raid was a 'crime that cannot be forgiven'

JERICHO, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited a prison here Wednesday and said Israel's raid on the facility a day earlier was a "crime that cannot be forgiven."

After a 10-hour siege, six Palestinians who were housed there under an international agreement surrendered to Israeli troops and were transported to Israeli prisons. Among them was Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who allegedly ordered the 2001 killing of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

"What happened is a crime that cannot be forgiven and an insult to the Palestinian people and violation of the agreement," said Abbas.

He also acknowledged that Palestinians have a right to be angry but called on them not to kidnap foreign workers. At least seven people were abducted and then released on Tuesday in response to the raid. Another four people who were kidnapped were released on Wednesday. (Posted 9:37 a.m.)

Bombings kill 6, wound 21 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- One civilian was killed and two others wounded when a car bomb exploded in the Talbiya neighborhood of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad Wednesday, an official with Baghdad Emergency Police said.

The attack took place around 8 a.m. (12 a.m. ET). A few minutes later, a roadside bomb hit an Iraqi police patrol in southeastern Baquba, killing one officer and wounding a second, an official with Diyala Joint Coordination Center said.

Also in Baquba, a motorcycle bomb exploded in a marketplace around midday, killing two people and wounding six others, police said. An Iraqi army convoy had just passed by the area.

In a third incident in Baquba, a bomb exploded in cell phone shop in a central shopping center killed two people and wounding 12 others, a spokesman from the Diyala Joint Coordination Center told CNN. Police searching the shop found detonators and suspect the shop was being used to manufacture bombs, the spokesman said. Five shops were damaged in the blast. (Posted 9:32 a.m.)

Palestinian militants release last four people kidnapped in wake of Israeli military action in Jericho

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian militants on Wednesday released four hostages who were kidnapped following the Israeli attack Tuesday on a prison at Jericho, Palestinian security sources said.

The sources said militants released three journalists -- two Frenchmen and a South Korean -- as well as a Canadian. On Tuesday, another seven people were abducted and held for a time by Palestinian militants before being released. (Posted 9:26 a.m.)

Mining operations resume at W. Va. mine, more than 2 months after deadly blast

BUCKHANNON, W. Va. (CNN) -- Operations at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., will resume Wednesday, more than 10 weeks after an explosion trapped and eventually killed 12 miners, according to a statement from International Coal Group.

The mine's owners said on Tuesday a bolt of lightning triggered the Jan. 2 methane gas explosion, based on its own investigation of the blast. Government investigators have yet to release their findings.

"While our independent investigation is certainly not the final word on the explosion, we are confident that the joint federal-state investigation will reach a similar conclusion," said Ben Hatfield, the company's president and CEO.

Thirteen miners were trapped underground. When rescuers were able to reach them 41 hours later, only one remained alive; the others had died from carbon monoxide intoxication. (Posted 9:24 a.m.)

Up to 700 U.S. troops heading to Iraq to provide security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An armored battalion of up to 700 troops from the 1st Armored Division has been ordered into Iraq for security duties, military officials confirmed Wednesday.

The troops are being sent at a time of rising sectarian violence, but officials say that is not the reason for the move. The seating of the new Iraqi parliament and an upcoming Shia religious holiday are seen as potential points of tension that could require U.S. forces provide extra backup to Iraqi security forces, one U.S. military official said.

Some of the troops have already arrived at locations in and around the Baghdad area. There are currently about 132,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. A brigade of about 3,500 troops from the 1st Armored Division has been on standby in Kuwait as a backup force. The battalion will stay in Iraq for some weeks and then there will an evaluation to determine how long they are needed. (Posted 9:21 a.m.)

Police: 11 killed in coalition raid north of Balad -- 6 children, 4 women among them

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Eleven people were killed in a U.S.-led raid north of Balad on Wednesday against a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq site, according to police.

Six children, 4 women, and the owner of the house were killed, police said.

U.S.-led forces staged the raid and came under fire as they approached the building, about 10 miles north of Balad, said Maj. Tim O'Keefe.

Air support fired on the site.

O'Keefe provided a lower casualty count, saying an insurgent, two women and a child were killed.

The target building was destroyed along with one vehicle, O'Keefe said. A man believed to be a "foreign fighter facilitator" was taken into coalition custody and is being questioned. -- CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this story. (Posted 7:25 a.m.)

South Korean PM leaves office

SEOUL (CNN) -- South Korea's prime minister has resigned, a move that comes in the middle of political scandal. President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday accepted South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan's resignation.

Although the prime minister's post is largely a figurehead position in South Korean politics, Lee is a close confidant of Roh's and his loss is considered a major blow to the presidency.

A political firestorm erupted when it was reported that Lee went golfing earlier this month, while a major railway strike was under way during a national holiday. Korean politicians are expected to work overtime under such conditions. (Posted 6:26 a.m.)

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