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Violence Shakes Kabul on Eve of Afghan Elections


AFGHANISTAN: Afghan security forces are making their presence felt in Kabul after gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a bank in the capital on the eve of national elections. Officials say the gunmen forced their way into the bank, located about a kilometer from the presidential palace, early Wednesday. The head of the Interior Ministry's anti-crime unit says his forces killed three of the gunmen and recovered about 30 weapons. Three policemen were wounded. This violence comes on Afghanistan's Independence Day holiday and as election officials make last-minute preparations for Thursday's presidential and provincial elections.

KOREAS - KIM: North Korea plans to send a delegation to the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who died Tuesday at the age of 85. A former aide to Mr. Kim told reporters Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent condolences to Mr. Kim's family and arranged for special envoys to attend his funeral. Mr. Kim died (of multiple organ failure) at a Seoul hospital where he was admitted last month with pneumonia. Current and former South Korean leaders visited the hospital Tuesday to pay their respects, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was a vice foreign minister in Mr. Kim's administration.

US - BURMA: An American man who was imprisoned in Burma for making an unauthorized visit to the lakeside home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is heading home Wednesday on a flight out of Thailand. American John Yettaw was sentenced last week to seven years hard labor for his visit, but U.S. Democratic Senator Jim Webb flew to Burma and secured his release on Sunday. Yettaw underwent two days of health checks in Bangkok before boarding a plane to go back to the United States.

TAIWAN - TYPHOON: Taiwan's defense minister and the secretary-general of the Cabinet have resigned to take responsibility for the government's slow response to Typhoon Morakot. Officials and media reports say Defense Minister Chen Chao-min and Cabinet Secretary-General Hsueh Hsiang-chuan submitted their resignations Wednesday. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has ordered an investigation into the government's mishandling of relief efforts following the typhoon. Mr. Ma told reporters Tuesday the investigation will identify the mistakes and punish those responsible for them.

SOKOR - ROCKET: South Korea has postponed its first rocket launch about seven minutes before liftoff. The rocket, carrying an observation satellite, was set to blast off early Wednesday from a space center south of Seoul. Officials said the launch will not happen for the time being, without immediately giving reasons for the delay. The launch had been postponed several times for technical reasons. The South Korean rocket (Naro-one) was built in cooperation with Russia.

IRAQ: Iraqi police say a series of explosions near high-profile targets across Baghdad killed at least 75 people and wounded more than 310 others. Wednesday's attacks made it the bloodiest day in the Iraqi capital since U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas on June 30. One blast tore through a neighborhood near the heavily fortified Green Zone, covering it in debris and shattered glass. The blast went off near Iraq's Foreign Ministry and shattered windows of Iraq's parliament building.

RUSSIA - ISRAEL - IRAN: Israeli President Shimon Peres says Russia has agreed to review the sale of a sophisticated air defense system to Iran. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr. Peres said Russian President Dmitri Medvedev promised to review a contract to supply Iran with the powerful S-300 missiles. During their meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Medvedev said Russia is against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Mr. Peres warned that a nuclear weapon in Iran's hands would place Israel under the threat of (what he called) an airborne "death camp."

INDIA - DROUGHT: Indian officials say monsoon rains in India this year have been nearly 30-percent below average, and that almost a quarter of the country's districts are suffering from drought. One of the worst hit areas is the southern state of Karnataka. The state's chief minister (B.S. Yediyurappa) said Tuesday that rainfall for the July-August period has been the lowest in 40 years. Last week, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said there is no need to panic, while sticking to predictions that India's economy will grow even though crops in large parts of the country are threatened by drought.

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