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By Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The selection of a hard-line cleric as the new Taliban chief on Wednesday all but dashes U.S. President Barack Obama's hopes for opening peace talks before he leaves office, one of his top foreign policy goals, current and former U.S. defense and intelligence officials said. The Taliban leadership council tapped Mullah Haybattulah Akhundzada, a conservative Islamic scholar from the group's stronghold in southern Afghanistan, to succeed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, four days after Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike. U.S. officials had called Mansour a major impediment to peace talks, and some had expressed hope his death would eliminate an obstacle to peace negotiations between the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — The 284 kids competing in this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee got their first opportunity to approach the microphone on Wednesday — and to hear the dreaded bell that signals an incorrect spelling. At the end of Wednesday's onstage rounds, the field was cut to 45 spellers for Thursday's finals.