AFGHANISTAN - HOSTAGES: A top South Korean envoy is traveling to Afghanistan to try to secure the release of the remaining 22 South Korean hostages held by Taleban insurgents. Baek Jong-Chun, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for security affairs, left Seoul today. Earlier, South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun denounced the killing of one of the hostages and called on Taleban militants to immediately release the remaining captives. In Afghanistan, a self-described Taleban spokesman told Western news agencies that negotiations for the release of the hostages are still possible.
SYRIA - BLAST: Syria's official news agency says an explosion at an ordnance depot inside a military complex has killed at least 15 soldiers and wounded another 50. The SANA news agency says the blast occurred today when high temperatures set off explosive materials at the depot, outside the northern city of Aleppo. Syrian television said the blast was "not a terrorist act." Witnesses said temperatures in the region reached 45 degrees Celsius late Wednesday. Aleppo is located some 350-kilometers north of the capital, Damascus.
IRAN - US - IRAQ: A top U.S. military commander in Iraq says militant mortar and rocket attacks on Baghdad's fortified Green Zone have been more accurate over the past three months because of training in Iran. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno said today there has been "significant improvement" in the capability of militias and their firings have been more accurate. He said the military thinks "this is directly related to training conducted inside Iran." General Odierno made the remark two days after U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq held a second round of talks in Baghdad on Iraq's security.
KOREAS - TALKS: High-level military talks between North and South Korea have broken down due to lingering differences over their disputed western sea border. At the final session of the three-day talks today at the border village of Panmunjom, North Korean Lieutenant-General Kim Yong Chol said that North Korea does not need "these fruitless talks any more." Kim criticized the South for avoiding discussions on what he called the "illegal" sea border. The Northern Limit Line was drawn up by the United Nations at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
INDONESIA - QUAKE: A strong undersea earthquake hit Indonesia's eastern province of North Maluku today, triggering panic among residents but causing no serious damage. Indonesian authorities issued a tsunami warning shortly after the magnitude six-point-seven earthquake struck today (at 5:40 UTC) off Indonesia's eastern coast in the Molucca sea, at a depth of 33 kilometers. The warning was lifted soon after. In December 2004, a massive undersea earthquake and tsunami killed more than 160-thousand people in Indonesia's westernmost Aceh province.
AUSTRALIA - EAST TIMOR: Australian Prime Minister John Howard says his country's troops will stay in East Timor for as long as they are needed. Mr. Howard made the pledge in Dili after talks today with East Timor's newly-elected President Jose Ramos-Horta, who said he wants the troops to remain until the end of 2008. Mr. Howard is also scheduled to meet with Australian peacekeepers during his one-day visit. An Australian-led U.N. peacekeeping force came to the country's aid last year after fighting broke out between rival security forces.
PAK - MISSILE: The Pakistani military says it has successfully test-fired a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. A military statement said the test of the Babur (or, Haft VII,) missile was carried out today. It said President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz congratulated the scientists and engineers involved in the test-firing of the missile, which has range of about 700-kilometers. The military did not provide further details. Pakistan and its nuclear-capable neighbor India both routinely carry out tests of various missile in their arsenals. Both countries have agreed to inform each other in advance of such tests.
UN - IVORY COAST: The United Nations is sending a team of investigators to Ivory Coast next week to probe allegations of widespread sexual abuse committed by a Moroccan peacekeeping unit. The U.N. suspended the activities of the contingent of more than 700 peacekeepers earlier this week, when allegations surfaced they abused and exploited under-aged girls. The Moroccans have been confined to their barracks in the northern city of Bouake, except for essential daytime duties. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute says the world body will take swift action if the allegations are proven to be true.
EURO WEATHER: Much of southern Europe remains in the grip of a deadly heat wave, as Britain struggles to recover from record rainfall and the country's worst flooding in 60 years. Temperatures in Italy and Greece have surged past 40 degrees Celsius and fanned wildfires in southern Italy, Macedonia, Slovakia, and Greece. Thousands of vacationers in southern Italy fled to beaches to escape fires authorities say arsonists may have started. In Hungary, officials say heat killed more than 500 people in the past week, before cooler weather brought temporary relief on Wednesday.
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