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U.N. OFFICIAL SHOCKED BY DEPRIVATION

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

John Holmes, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, visited Gaza on Friday and said he was stunned by what he found. "I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things I have seen and heard about during the day," said Holmes. "These ... things are the result of the current restrictions on the crossings into Gaza, and the very limited amounts of foods and other materials being allowed in." Israel and Egypt severely restricted access to Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas took control by force in June. The closure has driven up poverty, hunger and unemployment among Gaza's 1.4-million people.

HARARE, Zimbabwe

Inflation expanding at an explosive rate

The official rate of annual inflation in Zimbabwe tripled in one month to 66,212 percent in December, the world's highest but less than half the rate calculated by independent analysts.

Figures from the central bank published Friday show a dramatic escalation from November's dizzying rate of 24,470 percent. The government's price control body this week allowed sharp increases in the prices of cornmeal, sugar, bread and other basics in a bid to restore operations by producers and return the goods to shelves.

Independent analysts cite supermarket receipts showing the price of chicken rose more than 236,000 percent to 15-million Zimbabwe dollars, or about $2.15 for 2.2 pounds between January 2007 and January 2008.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Tape indicates rigging in upcoming voting

Fears that the government will manipulate Monday's parliamentary elections grew Friday as Human Rights Watch released an audio recording of Pakistan's attorney general apparently saying that elections will be "massively rigged."

Attorney General Malik Qayyum appeared to advise an unidentified office seeker to contact officials of an unnamed party who will "massively rig to get their own people to win." Human Rights Watch said it obtained the tape, which it posted on the Internet, from a member of the media who was interviewing Qayyum by phone on Nov. 21 when the attorney general interrupted the conversation to take another call.

This was one day after the Election Commission announced the election schedule.

UNITED NATIONS

Serbia: Violence not an option in Kosovo

Serbia will use economic, political and diplomatic measures to stop Kosovo from declaring independence Sunday, but will avoid violence, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told an emergency Security Council session Thursday.

Jeremic said that allowing the province to secede would do "irreparable harm" to the notion of sovereignty, and would trigger secession by other disaffected territories. He called on the Security Council to prevent the province from breaking away.

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