GENEVA — Marc Rich, the trader known as the "King of Commodities" whose controversial 2001 pardon by President Bill Clinton just hours before he left office unleashed a political firestorm of criticism, has died, aged 78. Rich died of a stroke in a hospital in Lucerne, Switzerland, near to his longtime home, according to the Marc Rich Group. His Israel-based spokesman, Avner Azulay, said Rich would be buried in Israel on Thursday. By John Heilprin.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis names a commission of inquiry to look into the activities of the troubled Vatican bank amid a fresh money-laundering investigation and questions about what exactly goes on inside the secretive institution. It was the second time in as many weeks that Francis has intervened to get to get to the bottom of the problems that have plagued the Institute for Religious Works: On June 15, he filled a key vacancy in the bank's governing structure, tapping a trusted friend to be essentially his eyes inside the bank. The new appointee will have access to documentation, board meetings and management. .


VIENNA — VIENNA — The U.N. drug control agency on Wednesday sounded the alarm on the spread of designer drugs, which are sold openly and legally and sometimes result in deadly highs, while reporting that global drug use generally remains stable. Such substances "can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs," the agency said in a statement accompanying its annual report. "Street names, such as 'spice,' 'meow-meow' and 'bath salts' mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun." By George Jahn.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Japan's annual whale hunt is a commercial slaughter of marine mammals dressed up as science, Australian lawyers argued Wednesday as they urged the United Nations' highest court to ban the hunt. Australia's case at the International Court of Justice, supported by New Zealand, is the latest step in years of attempts by governments and environmental groups to halt the Japanese whaling fleet's annual trips to harpoon minke and fin whales for what Tokyo argues is scientific research allowed under international law. By Mike Corder.

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TIRANA, Albania — The last ballots are being counted in Albania's general election and they show a landslide victory for the opposition Socialist Party-led coalition. With about 97 percent of the vote counted, the country's election commission says the Socialists' coalition has won around 53 percent, while the Democratic Party-led coalition of Prime Minister Sali Berisha had 36 percent, 12 percentage points less than four years ago.

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LONDON — The Earl of Harewood may have been exaggerating when he described the premiere of "Gloriana" as "one of the great disasters of operatic history." Still, the Benjamin Britten opera, commissioned to help mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, was hardly a rousing success back in 1953. By Mike Silverman.

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BRUSSELS — European Union finance ministers are making a fresh attempt to set up rules on how to distribute the cost of failing banks without letting taxpayers foot the bill. The EU's 27 finance ministers are set to gather for an emergency meeting in Brussels late Wednesday after they failed to reach an agreement on the legislation in 19 hours of negotiations last week.


PARIS — European Central Bank head Mario Draghi said Wednesday that the bank "stands ready to act" with measures to boost the struggling European economy but urged national governments to take their own growth-enhancing steps by reforming their economies. In a speech, Draghi told French lawmakers that governments "need to do all they can" to increase potential growth and make their economies more competitive. One thing he said they could do is to streamline excessive labor market regulations that have contributed to high levels of youth unemployment. By Sarah Dilorenzo and David Mchugh.


LONDON — Financial markets remained calm Wednesday, helping stocks to eke out gains for the second day running. Gold prices, though, fell to three-year lows due to the strength of the dollar. Over recent weeks, markets have been volatile amid concerns over U.S. monetary policy. Last week's confirmation from Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, that the central bank may start reining in its monetary stimulus this year prompted big falls in stock markets as well as a sharp appreciation in the dollar. By Pan Pylas.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has named a commission of inquiry to look into the activities of the troubled Vatican bank amid a new money laundering investigation and questions about what exactly goes on inside the secretive institution. It was the second time in as many weeks that Francis has intervened to get to get to the bottom of the problems that have plagued the Institute for Religious Works for decades. By Nicole Winfield


PARIS — UBS France is being fined 10 million euros ($13 million) after French authorities found the bank delayed tightening up controls to curb money laundering and cross-border fiscal fraud. The French banking regulator, ACP, said Wednesday that UBS France was warned by autumn 2007 about inadequate procedures and did nothing for 18 months. The statement did not specify whether there had been any illicit activity. French prosecutors are separately investigating UBS France — and three executives — for complicity in illegal business dealings.


BERLIN — A survey has found that low unemployment and solid wage increases have helped push German consumer confidence to a nearly six-year high. The GfK research institute said Wednesday that its forward-looking consumer climate index rose to 6.8 points for July from 6.5 in June. That's the highest level since a reading of 7.3 in September 2007.



LONDON — Defending champion Roger Federer returns to Centre Court to face Sergiy Stakhovsky in a second-round match at Wimbledon, while No. 2-seeded Andy Murray plays Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan on Court 1. In women's play, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka opens play on Centre Court against Flavia Pennetta of Italy and 2004 champion Maria Sharapova faces Michelle Larcher De Brito of Portugal. By Stephen Wilson.