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In brief: At least 22 killed in car bomb blasts

BAGHDAD – Shiite-dominated areas in southern and central Iraq were rocked Monday by car bomb explosions that killed at least 22 people and fueled fears that the country is sliding into a civil war.

The violence occurred as Iraqi security forces surrounded the Sunni cities of Ramadi and Fallujah demanding that the area’s tribes hand over those responsible for killing five Iraqi soldiers over the weekend. Authorities gave the tribes 48 hours to hand the men over.

The deadline passed, but Jaber Jabri, a member of parliament from Ramadi, said late Monday that a tentative deal had been struck to defuse the situation. He said a committee of military commanders, local officials and tribal figures would search for those thought to be responsible, and the tribes would remove their guns from the streets of Ramadi.

The army would be allowed to search specific areas for weapons, but would not launch an attack, he said, adding: “I hope now the situation will get better.”

Fallujah and Ramadi, former hotbeds of the insurgency against the Americans, have led a four-month protest movement against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Politicians fear an assault on Anbar province could be the beginning of a new sectarian conflict. A decision last week to storm a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq triggered a week of related-violence that left more than 200 dead.

Mandela looks ailing in Monday video

JOHANNESBURG – South African President Jacob Zuma said he found Nelson Mandela “in good shape and in good spirits” Monday, but a video of his encounter with the ailing anti-apartheid icon belies those cheery words, showing him with a vacant look on his face.

It’s been more than three weeks since Mandela was released after a 10-day stay in the hospital, the third time in five months that he was hospitalized for a recurring lung infection.

“We saw him, he’s looking very good, he’s in good shape,” Zuma told the South African Broadcasting Corp. on the doorstep of Mandela’s Johannesburg home. “We had some conversation with him, shook hands, he smiled, as you can see him, that he’s really up and about and stabilized. We’re really very happy. We think that he’s fine.”

But the SABC video shows Mandela in an armchair, his head propped up by a pillow, his legs on a footrest and covered by a blanket, looking gray-skinned and unsmiling with his cheeks showing what appear to be marks from a recently removed oxygen mask.

Zuma jokes and laughs with two officials of the governing African National Congress, some Mandela family members and the former president’s medical team while Mandela stares straight ahead, unresponsive.

Mandela does not appear to speak during the televised portion of the visit, except for an “Oh” that could have been a gasp for breath, and one word to his doctor.

Monday’s video likely will cause more concern for the many South Africans who were buoyed by the aging icon’s release from the hospital and family statements that he is doing as well as can be expected for a 94-year-old.


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U.S. Gulf Coast prepares as Alberto brings wind, rain north

UPDATED: 9:03 p.m.

Florida and Mississippi launched emergency preparations Saturday ahead of the arrival of Subtropical Storm Alberto, a slow-moving system expected to cause wet misery across the eastern U.S. Gulf Coast over the holiday weekend.