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Militants shot dead an Iraqi provincial councillor and bombed the education minister's convoy on Wednesday, as violence killed 13 people nationwide ahead of next week's elections. Iraq is suffering a protracted surge in bloodshed that has killed more than 2,750 people this year, and the April 30 parliamentary vote - the first since American troops departed in 2011 - will be a major test for security forces.

A top Iranian official declared Wednesday that Afghanistan's presidential election was held fairly in a sign of progress for the country, despite final results being delayed because of fraud allegations. The comments by Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came after it was announced that the April 5 vote winner will be named Saturday, two days later than planned.
The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) announced a unity pact on Wednesday, deepening a crisis in US-brokered peace talks with Israel. The move, coming after a long line of failed efforts to reconcile after seven years of internal bickering, envisions a unity government within five weeks and national elections six months later.
Iran's judiciary has replaced the country's prisons chief after reports of violence against political prisoners during a routine inspection in Evin Prison, media reports said on Wednesday. But Gholam Hossein Ismaili - who denies any wrongdoing in the events that unfolded on April 17 - has been appointed to a senior post as head of the justice department in the capital.
Western leaders should set aside their differences with Russia over Ukraine to focus on the growing threat of 'Islamic extremism', former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday. In a speech in London, the Middle East envoy said the spread of extremist ideology in that region as well as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and North Africa "represents the biggest threat to global security of the 21st century".
Russia issued a sharp warning on Wednesday that it will strike back if its "legitimate interests" in Ukraine are attacked, raising the stakes in the Cold War-like duel with the United States over the former Soviet republic's future. "If we are attacked, we would certainly respond," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state-controlled RT television.
Kosovo's parliament approved on Wednesday the establishment of an international court to deal with alleged crimes committed by ethnic Albanian guerrillas during the 1998-1999 war with Serbia. The vote came amid a mounting pressure on Pristina to back an EU call to create a special court to address the allegations detailed in a 2011 Council of Europe report on crimes committed by pro-independence ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
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