Security high on eve of critical Iraq elections

BAGHDAD - Iraq imposed a nationwide security lockdown Friday before key regional elections with blanket measures not seen since the deadliest years of the insurgency, underscoring the high stakes for Iraqi leaders desperate to portray stability after nearly six years of conflict.

Although violence is sharply down - and with pre-election attacks relatively limited - authorities were unwilling to take any risks. They ordered cars off city streets, sealed borders and closed airports.

The top-to-bottom precautions show that the consequences run deeper than just the outcome of Saturday's ballots for 440 seats on influential provincial councils across Iraq.

Hamas official declares victory in Gaza rallies

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - More than 5,000 Hamas supporters rallied in Gaza on Friday, as a leader of the Islamic militant group emerged from hiding to declare victory in the 23-day Israeli offensive that devastated much of the Palestinian territory.

Hamas lawmaker Khalil al-Hayeh appeared in public for the first time since the war's start on Dec. 27 and remained defiant despite Hamas' heavy losses.

'We thank God when we see our houses bombed and our institutions destroyed, but our people say yes to the resistance and yes to martyrdom for the sake of God,' al-Hayeh said, standing in front of the damaged Palestinian parliament building. 'We say proudly that Gaza has won the war, the resistance has won the war, and Hamas has won the war.'

Israeli launched its offensive to stop eight years of near-daily militant rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israeli towns. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, about half of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians.

British man fined for riding while intoxicated

LONDON - Using a 19th-century law, a British court has fined a man 150 pounds after be admitted riding a horse while drunk.

Godfrey Blacklin pleaded guilty to a charge under the 1872 Licensing Act of being drunk in charge of a carriage horse, cattle or steam engine.

Prosecuting lawyer David Thompson told Newcastle Magistrates Court it was 'not a charge you see every day.'