Taliban kill 4 French troops in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban suicide bomber disguised as a woman and wearing a burqa blew himself up in a market in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing four French troops, officials said.
The French forces were responding to a report of a bomb planted under a bridge in the main market area of Kapisa province's Nijrab district when the bomber walked up to them and detonated his explosives, said Qais Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in an email.
France has said it plans to pull its 3,300 troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, well before the 2014 goal for the majority of NATO combat troops to have left the country.
Pakistan rejects Panetta's allegations
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan is rejecting allegations by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that it is allowing militants to use its territory to stage attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Saturday's statement by the Pakistani foreign ministry says Panetta's remarks this week in Kabul were “misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region.”
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been extremely strained over a host of issues recently, including Pakistan's closing the border to NATO trucks in response to the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by NATO forces.
Panetta said the U.S. was “running out of patience” with Pakistan.
Intense shelling of Syrian city kills at least 17
BEIRUT – Syrian troops shelled the southern city of Daraaa early Saturday, killing at least 17 people, activists said. And in Damascus, residents spoke about a night of shooting and explosions in the worst violence Syria's capital has seen since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began 15 months ago.
The latest escalations in different parts of Syria are another blow to international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, which aims to end the country's bloodletting. Annan brokered a cease-fire that went into effect April 12 but has since been violated hundreds of times and never properly took hold.
The U.N. said several weeks ago that at least 9,000 people have been killed since the crisis began in March last year while Syrian activists say the violence has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people.
US gen. apologizes for Afghan civilian deaths
PATROL BASE PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan – The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan offered a somber apology Friday in an eastern province where officials say 18 civilians – half of them children – were killed in a coalition airstrike this week.
U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen spent several hours with local Afghans to express his regrets about Wednesday's pre-dawn raid to capture a Taliban operative in Baraki Barak district of Logar province.
“We take these deaths very seriously and I grieve with their families,” Allen told the provincial governor, an elderly man with a long, white beard and gray turban. “I have children of my own, and I feel the pain of this.”
Hours later, after Allen's visit, the U.S.-led coalition issued a statement saying that it had completed its initial assessment of the operation and confirmed that “in addition to the insurgents killed during the operation, it's also responsible for the unintended, but nonetheless tragic, death of Afghan civilians.”
Report: China plans manned space launch
BEIJING – China will launch three astronauts this month to dock with an orbiting experimental module, and the crew might include its first female space traveler, a government news agency said Staurday.
A rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft was moved to a launch pad in China's desert northwest today for the mid-June flight, the Xinhua News Agency said, citing an space program spokesman.
The three-member crew will dock with and live in the Tiangong 1 orbital module launched last year, Xinhua said. The government has not said how long the mission will last.
Possible Spain bailout to be discussed
MADRID – Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will discuss a potential rescue for Spain on Saturday, a eurozone official said, as pressure grows on Madrid to sort out its troubled banks even if it means seeking a European bailout.
The latest report – from the International Monetary Fund – estimated that Spain needs at least a $50 billion capital injection after a stress test it performed on the country's financial sector. That report came out early Saturday, three days ahead of schedule, underscoring the urgency of the situation.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday that the government would wait for the results of three reports, including the IMF one and two from independent auditors, before acting. But pressure is rising on the country, and the government appears to have resigned itself to the fact that it needs a bailout with money pumped in from Europe to prop up its struggling banks
Court denies dismissal of WikiLeaks charges
FORT MEADE, Md. – A military judge refused Friday to dismiss any of the 22 counts against an Army private charged in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.
Col. Denise Lind also indicated she will postpone Pfc. Bradley Manning's trial, currently set to start Sept. 21, to November or January because of procedural delays.
Manning is charged with knowingly aiding al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by causing the online publication of hundreds of thousands of classified State Department diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, along with some battlefield video clips. Authorities say the 24-year-old Crescent, Okla., native downloaded the files from a Defense Department network and sent them to the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.
He hasn't entered a plea to the charges.
No charges in fatal Conn. Christmas fire
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Criminal charges won’t be filed in a Christmas morning house fire that killed three girls and their grandparents, a blaze blamed on a bag of discarded fireplace ashes, a Connecticut prosecutor said Friday.
The fire killed 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, 9-year-old Lily Badger, and their grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson. The girls’ mother, Madonna Badger, and her friend Michael Borcina escaped the fire. Borcina is believed to be the one who threw out the ashes.
Stamford State’s Attorney David Cohen said Friday that some precautions were taken and that while in hindsight they were insufficient, they didn’t rise to the level of criminal negligence.
The girls’ parents, who are divorced, have filed notices that they plan to sue Stamford, accusing officials of intentionally destroying evidence when they demolished the tony shoreline home a day after the fire.