AFGHANISTAN: Taleban militants in Afghanistan have released eight of 19 South Korean hostages abducted nearly six weeks ago. The Taleban freed four women and one man, hours after releasing the first group of three women. The hostages were handed over to tribal chiefs in southern Ghazni province today and then to Red Cross officials. On Tuesday, the Taleban said it would soon free all the hostages. A South Korean presidential spokesman says the deal was reached after Seoul agreed to withdraw 200 of its troops from Afghanistan by year's end and suspend missionary work in the country.
US - IRAN - IRAQ: The U.S. military in Iraq says it has released eight Iranians, who were briefly detained for questioning because unauthorized weapons were found in their vehicles. A military statement said the Iranians, including two with diplomatic passports, were handed over to Iraqi officials this morning. The statement said four vehicles carrying the Iranians and seven Iraqis were stopped at a Baghdad checkpoint and were allowed to proceed to the nearby Sheraton hotel late Tuesday. It said troops confiscated one assault rifle and other weapons found in the vehicles and followed the men into the hotel, where troops also seized a laptop computer, cellular phones and a briefcase full of Iranian and American currency.
IRAQ: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says order has been restored in the holy city of Karbala, where clashes killed at least 52 people and wounded more than 200 others during a major Shi'ite religious festival. Mr. Maliki, who arrived in the southern city early today, blamed "armed criminal gangs and remnants of the former Saddam regime" for the violence. Security officials in Karbala said the fighting Tuesday broke out when gunmen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fired on guards around two major shrines protected by the armed wing of the Supreme Iraqi islamic Council.
JAPAN - CHINA - DEFENSE: China's defense minister is visiting Japan in the hopes of easing the countries' strained relations. It is the first such visit in nearly a decade. Cao Gangchuan arrived in Tokyo today for talks with Japan's newly appointed defense minister, Masahiko Komura. Japanese media say the officials may discuss installing a defense hotline between the nations. The countries have mutual suspicions about the other's military ambitions. Beijing's rapidly growing defense budget has raised concerns in Japan and the United States.
NOKOR - FLOODS: Tokyo is considering providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans affected by recent floods that killed hundreds of people and wiped out buildings and crops. Japan's new foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, says officials are discussing whether to send support to North Korea, despite the countries' ideological differences. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea and has refused aid to the country for years. Its main complaint is Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese officials repeatedly have said relations can not be normalized until the abductions issue is resolved.
CHINA - FOOD SAFETY: China has sent a notice to the World Heath Organization defending its food safety standards. The Health Ministry notice says almost all of China's food exports are safe, and that Beijing respects the importance of cooperating with other countries and institutions on food safety. The note calls on the World Health Organization to provide support and help to China's food safety work, and to report this work to other member states. The United States and Europe have harshly criticized China for exporting sub-standard products, including pet food ingredients, toothpaste and toys.
AUSTRALIA - APEC: Authorities in Australia say the biggest security operation in the country's history will protect world leaders at next week's Asia-Pacific summit in Sydney. The New South Wales state police commissioner says the extraordinary security measures are being taken because of a heightened threat of terrorism and significant protest activity. He did not mention any specific threats to the event. The presidents of the United States, China and Russia are among 21 world leaders expected to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.
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