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In brief: Battle of the Bulge anniversary marked

From Wire Reports

BASTOGNE, Belgium – Braving snowy weather, Americans and Belgians gathered in the Ardennes region of Belgium on Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of one of the biggest and bloodiest U.S. battles of World War II – the Battle of the Bulge.

Jean-Claude Klepper, 62, of Virton, Belgium, and his 15-year-old daughter Aurelie dressed up like World War II GIs to mark the occasion.

“We must never forget what happened in 1944,” the elder Klepper told the Associated Press. “Many American soldiers came here to defend Europe. We must honor them for what they did.”

Starting on Dec. 16, 1944, and for nearly six weeks, more than 600,000 American soldiers, fighting in freezing conditions and often hungry and dog-tired, took part in desperate efforts to contain, then throw back, a surprise German counteroffensive masterminded by Adolf Hitler himself.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed the ultimate result as “an ever-famous American victory.” But it came at a high cost: 80,987 U.S. casualties, including 10,276 dead, 47,493 wounded and 23,218 missing, according to the U.S. Army’s official history.

Total German casualties are estimated at 81,834, including 12,652 dead and 30,582 missing.

Russian military craft nearly hits jetliner

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – For the second time this year, a Russian military aircraft turned off its transponders to avoid commercial radar and nearly collided with a passenger jet over Sweden, officials said Saturday.

“This is serious. This is inappropriate. This is outright dangerous when you turn off the transponder,” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said on Swedish radio.

Officials at Russia’s Ministry of Defense in Moscow were not immediately available to comment Saturday.

In recent months, Russia has increased its military presence in the Baltic Sea area, prompting some Swedish officials to compare it to the Cold War.

Saturday, Swedish authorities said a Russian military aircraft nearly collided above southern Sweden with a commercial passenger jet that had taken off Friday from Copenhagen.

Japanese voters head to polls today

TOKYO – Japanese voters headed to the polls today in a parliamentary election that is expected to reaffirm the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s majority, though many analysts were predicting a record low turnout.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called today’s snap election for the lower house, saying he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic program and other policies.

Abe said he would step down if the Liberal Democrats fail to obtain an outright majority, but weakness among opposition parties makes that unlikely.

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