US formally protests Iranian harassment of its warships

WASHINGTON - The United States on Thursday lodged a formal diplomatic protest with Iran over an incident last weekend in which Iranian speedboats harassed U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.

The protest repeats U.S. complaints about Sunday's ""provocative' action in the Strait of Hormuz and was sent to the Iranian Foreign Ministry via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, the State Department said.

Former UN chief to lead Kenya mediation efforts

NAIROBI, Kenya - Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed Thursday to take over talks to end the deadly turmoil linked to Kenya's presidential election, after days of international pressure resulted in nothing more than a fresh round of accusations from both sides.

The Dec. 27 election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for another five-year term, with his opponent, Raila Odinga, coming in a close second after a vote tally that foreign observers say was rigged. More than 500 people have been killed in the ensuing violence.

Colombian rebels free 2 hostages

CARACAS, Venezuela - Colombian rebels freed two women held hostage for more than five years, handing them over Thursday to Venezuelan officials who flew them to Caracas where a triumphant President Hugo Chavez awaited.

The release of Clara Rojas, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, was a major victory for Chavez, whose leftist ideology has helped make him a key mediator with the rebels.

The Caracas-based Telesur network showed the two women smiling as they were freed by rebels in fatigues.

Bomb attack on Pakistani police kills 24 people

LAHORE, Pakistan - A suspected Islamic militant walked into a crowd of police guarding a courthouse and blew himself up Thursday, killing 24 others and wounding dozens in the first major attack in Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The blast at Lahore High Court, minutes before a planned anti-government rally by lawyers, was a bloody reminder of the security threats facing this key U.S. ally ahead of Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

Echoing an extremist tactic in Iraq, suicide attacks have become as commonplace in Pakistan.