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In Lebanon a unity government was formed by the prime minister designate, Saad Hariri, ending five months of deadlock since the general election. The coalition includes two members of Hezbollah.

North and South Korea exchanged fire off the peninsula's west coast. Each side blamed the other for violating the disputed sea border. The clash was the first of its kind for seven years. No casualties were reported.

Iraq's general election will take place on 21 January 2010, five days later than planned. The date was set after the Iraqi parliament approved a crucial election law allowing voters to pick individual candidates rather than parties.

Violence in Pakistan continued: a car bombing in the north-western town of Charsadda killed at least 24 people. More than 300 people have been killed in a wave of attacks since Pakistani troops launched an assault against the Taliban in South Waziristan six weeks ago.

A health-care reform bill was narrowly passed by the US House of Representatives (see column, right). The bill aims to extend coverage to 36 million more Americans, and to provide affordable health care to 96 per cent. An amendment restricting coverage for abortions was crucial to winning support for the bill.

Venezuelan leaderHugo Chávez urged his country's armed forces to be ready for war with Colombia, which signed a military accord with the US on 30 October. Chávez has sent 15,000 troops to the country's border.

Japan has pledged £3bn aid for Afghanistan over the next five years. In October the Japanese government announced it would end its naval refuelling mission in support of US-led operations in the country. It wants a more equal relationship with Washington.

Heavy rains in El Salvador have killed at least 124 people. San Salvador, the capital, and San Vicente province, in the centre of the country, were hardest hit. President Mauricio Funes has declared a national emergency. Around 10,000 people need food aid, a UN agency says.

Thousands of Maoist rebels in Nepal have blocked all roads leading into the capital, Kathmandu, to protest against the governing coalition. They have called for a debate on presidential powers in parliament, which has been refused. The country's Maoist-led government collapsed in May.

The UN envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo (left), urged support for the government's battle with Rwandan Hutu rebels, after the UN withdrew its support for army units implicated in killing civilians. He acknowledged the serious situation but said the army had achieved "reasonable success".

The former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has taken up a job as economic adviser to the Cambodian government, deepening the rift between the two countries. Shinawatra faces a jail term if he returns to Thailand.

Turkey's announcement of its plan to end conflict in the Kurdish south-east of the country has been delayed. The interior minister, Besir Atalay, ran out of time to present the plan to parliament, as opposition parties jeered. The Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK) is seen by some as a terrorist group.

Political corruption costs $1.6trn (£951bn) every year, according to the UN. The money is lost in public assets moved across borders via money-laundering or undeclared holdings.

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has won backing for a ruling that would limit the length of Italy's long trials - including his own - to six years. Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a key ally, backed the move.

Russia's interior minister admitted that parts of its police force suffered from high levels of corruption. His statement followed a video posted on the internet by a senior policeman, who appealed to the prime minister to tackle the problem.

This article appears in the 16 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Dead End