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NETHERLANDS: Anti-Islamists gain in close election

An anti-Islam party notched large gains in Dutch elections Wednesday, but a contest between the two largest parties on the right and left remained too close to call. With 91 percent of votes counted, the pro-business VVD party led Labor by 31 seats to 30 in the 150-seat parliament, a result that spelled weeks, if not months, of haggling ahead to fashion a ruling coalition among parties deeply split on immigration and how to curb government spending. The anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders scored its best-ever finish with 24 seats. The governing Christian Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat with 21 seats, nearly half its current strength, and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told supporters he was leaving politics. Balkenende, who has led the government for eight years, will remain caretaker premier until a new cabinet is installed. "It's very exciting. But the real result is still to come, and it could go either way," said Labor Party leader Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam who is vying to become prime minister. In some scenarios Wilders and his Freedom Party could play a role in the forming of a coalition, but his polarizing stances have made him unsavory to other parties. He is under hate speech prosecution for comparing Islam to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Quran.

PHILIPPINES: A new President Aquino proclaimed

Benigno Aquino III was proclaimed president Wednesday and promised justice and action on a host of issues, including poverty and corruption. The Philippine Congress proclaimed Aquino as the nation's 15th president, formalizing the landslide victory of the son of revered democracy icons Benigno Aquino Jr. and former president Corazon Aquino in last month's first national automated elections. The official congressional count showed Aquino defeating his eight rivals with more than 15 million votes, about 5.7 million ahead of his closest opponent, ousted leader Joseph Estrada.

THAILAND: Drive-by bombing injures 23

A drive-by bombing near a mosque wounded 23 people in the turbulent south in what police said Wednesday was an attack by Muslim insurgents. Witnesses saw two men on a motorcycle throw an improvised explosive device at a government pickup truck in Yala town Tuesday evening, but the bomb missed the vehicle and landed just across the street from the mosque, Police Superintendent Col. Piyawat Chalermsri said. Most of those hurt were Muslims. Two victims were in intensive care, including a 14-year-old girl in critical condition. Thailand's southernmost provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities in a predominantly Buddhist country, have been gripped for the past six years by a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

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