BRITAIN: A pivotal election day

Voters head to the polls Thursday after a closely contested four-week campaign, with signs pointing to an outcome that could produce the most fragile government in a generation. Observers fear that a divided Parliament could undermine attempts to slash the country's huge budget deficit and perhaps spark a Greek-like debt crisis. Polls put the Conservative Party, out of power for 13 years, within reach of a majority in the Commons but just shy of enough seats to seal the deal. Their leader, David Cameron, could become Britain's youngest prime minister in nearly two centuries, though he would head a minority government.

IRELAND: Ash hobbles air traffic

A new wave of dense volcanic ash from Iceland snarled air traffic Wednesday in Ireland and Scotland, stranding tens of thousands of people but narrowly missing England and key London air hubs. Dublin Airport canceled all flights until 4 a.m. Thursday. More than a dozen other airports in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland shut down, too. Britain said the densest ash clouds skirted the western coast of England and North Wales but posed no threat to airports there.

SOMALIA: Pirates seize Russian ship

A Russian warship was sailing toward the kidnapped crew of a Russian-owned oil tanker hijacked Wednesday by Somali pirates as the vessel headed into the Indian Ocean with a cargo reportedly valued at more than $50 million. The MV Moscow University tanker had left Sudan and was bound for China when the 106,474-ton vessel was seized about 350 miles off the Yemeni island of Socotra.

CHINA: Secretive visit in Beijing

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met with President Hu Jintao on Wednesday and was expected to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday for talks, shrouded in secrecy, aimed at securing economic aid.

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