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In brief: U.S., South Korea hold more drills

SEOUL, South Korea – Tens of thousands of South Korean and U.S. troops launched a fresh round of military drills today despite North Korea’s warning that it would retaliate with a “merciless counterblow” for the exercises Pyongyang considers rehearsal for invasion.

The 11-day drills, dubbed Ulchi Freedom Guardian, are annual computer-simulated war games that involve about 56,000 South Korean soldiers and 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and abroad.

They follow massive joint naval drills last month off South Korea’s east coast that Washington and Seoul said were a show of unity following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

North Korea vowed harsh retaliation for those drills as well. Pyongyang has for years threatened the South with destruction, though it has never followed through with an all-out military assault since the Korean War ended in 1953.

BAGHDAD – Gunmen robbed four commercial ships anchored near the southern oil hub of Basra in a rare attack off the Iraqi coast, the U.S. Navy said Sunday.

Two men armed with AK-47 rifles boarded the American ship Sagamore in the vicinity of an Iraqi oil terminal in the northern Persian Gulf at 4 a.m. on Aug. 8, taking computers, cell phones and money from crew members before fleeing the vessel after about 40 minutes on board, according to Lt. John Fage, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

He said three other ships were also robbed under similar circumstances.

The attack reflects concerns about an increase in crime in Iraq, but Fage played down concerns it signaled a new threat to commercial traffic.

MOSCOW – The poisonous smog that contributed to a higher death rate in Moscow last week returned to Russia’s capital Sunday, officials said.

The concentration of carbon monoxide in Moscow air early Sunday was more than five times what is considered normal, said Alexey Popikov of Mosecomonitoring.

Emergency officials said the number of wildfires outside Moscow stood at 16 early Sunday.


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Boston’s Memorial Day flag garden idea spreads

UPDATED: 9:25 p.m.

updated  The solemn display of tens of thousands of U.S. flags that first appeared on Boston Common for Memorial Day a decade ago, honoring service members who have died defending the nation, is slowly becoming a national movement.