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World in brief: Taliban releases last seven Koreans

Taliban militants released the last seven South Korean hostages on Thursday under a deal with the government in Seoul, ending a six-week drama that the insurgents claimed as a “great victory for our holy warriors.”

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi vowed to abduct more foreigners, reinforcing fears that South Korea’s decision to negotiate directly with the militants would embolden them.

In Kabul, a suicide attacker detonated his vehicle close to the airport in Afghanistan’s capital early today, killing at least one Afghan solider and wounding two others, officials and witnesses said.


Firefighters battle final major blaze

Firefighters battled their last major blaze in southern Greece on Thursday after a week of forest fires killed 64 people and cost the country at least $1.6 billion, prompting a vast relief effort.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces a close race for re-election in less than three weeks, promised to rebuild all homes destroyed by the fires through a disaster relief fund made up of state and private contributions.

Initial government estimates indicate at least 1,500 homes were gutted in the southern Peloponnese peninsula and on the island of Evia, just north of Athens.

But there are concerns that figure could double. At least 4,000 people were left homeless – a number that could also double.


China replaces 5 senior officials

China replaced its finance minister, the head of the secret police and three other Cabinet members, the government said Thursday, in a reshuffling of senior posts ahead of a major Communist Party meeting that will set policies for the next five years.

Stated reasons for the changes varied, with some officials reaching retirement age and one dying in office.

Jin Renqing, the finance minister since 2003, was resigning “for personal reasons,” a Cabinet spokeswoman said without elaborating, fueling speculation that Jin had run afoul of the party leadership.

The replacement of the five senior officials comes amid a wave of new appointments and marks a departure from the past when top government portfolios changed hands every five years following party congresses. This year’s congress, to be held in October, will see President Hu Jintao put his stamp on the party’s lineup and national priorities even more.


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