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World in brief: Deaths, bombings hit record high

Tue., Jan. 1, 2008

U.S. military deaths and suicide bombings hit record highs in Afghanistan in 2007. Taliban militants killed more than 925 Afghan police, and large swaths of the country remain outside government control.

But U.S. officials here insist things are looking up: The Afghan army is assuming a larger combat role, and militants appear unlikely to mount a major spring offensive, as had been feared a year ago.

Still, six years after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, violence persists in much of southern Afghanistan where the government has little presence, and recent militant attacks in Pakistan highlight a regional problem with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Afghanistan in 2007 saw record violence that killed more than 6,500 people, including 110 U.S. troops – the highest level yet in Afghanistan – and almost 4,500 militants, according to an Associated Press count.


Hostage deal disintegrates

A Venezuelan-led mission to rescue three hostages, including a 3-year old boy, from leftist rebels in Colombia’s jungles fell apart Monday as the guerrillas accused Colombia’s military of sabotaging the promised handoff.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed the claim as a lie by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, instead suggesting the guerrillas could be backing out of the deal brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez because they don’t have the boy hostage.

Uribe said his government had given Venezuela and the international Red Cross coordinating the mission every guarantee that its military would not obstruct the handover.

Speaking earlier on state television, however, Chavez said the rebels wrote in a letter that “the military operational attempts in the zone impede us for now from turning over” the three hostages.

SEOUL, South Korea

N. Korea misses report deadline

North Korea failed to meet a year-end deadline to declare all its nuclear programs under an aid-for-disarmament deal, prompting disappointed reactions Monday from South Korea, the United States and Japan.

The three countries, along with China and Russia, have been pushing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs in a series of negotiations that began in 2003 and finally gained momentum in 2007.

Washington and Seoul have said they believe the overall disarmament process, though falling behind schedule, is still on track.

Pyongyang promised in February to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for energy aid and political concessions. In October, it vowed to disable its nuclear facilities and declare its programs by the end of the year in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil from South Korea, the U.S., China and Russia.


Cyprus, Malta move to euro

EU newcomers Cyprus and Malta adopted the euro Tuesday, bringing to fifteen the number of countries using the currency with increasing clout over the slumping U.S. dollar.

The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, scrapped the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira at midnight.

Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had to waited a little before getting his hands on the new currency. An automated teller machine did not work when Gonzi tried to withdraw euros.

The euro has risen more than 11 percent against the dollar during the year, and nine East European countries are waiting to convert.


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