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RUSSIA

Poisonous smog returns to Moscow

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 weather monitors Mosecomonitoring.

In addition, “The level of hydrocarbon emissions — the substances that give the air this unpleasant smell — was 5.5 times higher than the usual Moscow level this morning,” he told the Associated Press. He added, however, that by Monday winds will disperse most of the smog.

Acrid smoke from forest and peat bog fires blanketed Moscow until early this week, nearly doubling the number of recorded deaths and grounding planes in airports.

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

Muscovites expressed disappointment with official efforts to stop the fires.

FRANCE

Pilgrims evacuated after bomb threat

PARIS | Thousands of people, many disabled or ailing, were evacuated Sunday from the shrine at Lourdes in southern France after a bomb threat on the Catholic holy day of Assumption. The pilgrims returned after explosives experts scoured the area.

Some 30,000 pilgrims were at the site, whose spring water is reputed to have healing powers, when Lourdes police received a threat late in the morning saying a bomb would hit the site Sunday afternoon, said shrine spokesman Pierre Adias.

In an announcement read in six languages, authorities ordered everyone evacuated just as a midday Mass was supposed to begin.

About 900 gravely ill pilgrims, including many on stretchers, were taken to a secure place while explosives experts with sniffer dogs fanned out around the shrine, Lourdes Mayor Jean-Pierre Artiganave said on France-Info radio.

While the site was off-limits to pilgrims, a scheduled prayer service was held anyway, in the shadow of the spring and a statue of the Virgin Mary. Only six priests and shrine personnel attended the service, which was broadcast on the website of TV Lourdes.

After about five hours, the shrine reopened and Assumption ceremonies resumed, said another shrine spokesman, David Torchala.

No information was available about the source of the threat.

SWEDEN

Campaigns begin as election nears

STOCKHOLM | With just over one month left before voting day, Swedish political parties launched their election campaigns over the weekend by holding their first major rallies.

At a rally in the capital Stockholm on Saturday, center-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt promised new tax cuts, particularly for the retired, when the Scandinavian country’s budget swings back into the black.

Mr. Reinfeldt, who just turned 45, has been eager to focus the debate on his government’s record on handling the economy, which has made a roaring comeback after an initial hit from the global financial crisis.

The Social Democrats’ Mona Sahlin charged Mr. Reinfeldt’s Moderates had the wrong priorities at her rally on Sunday.

“The Moderates think that lowering taxes is the priority. They don’t see any others. Not youth unemployment, not exclusion of the sick … not growing inequality between people,” she said.

“Lowering taxes has a price. I am sure that price will paid by the welfare state,” she added.

The latest opinion polls show a tight race ahead of the Sept. 19 election.

BRITAIN

WWII veterans mark victory over Japan

LONDON | British veterans of World War II marked the 65th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Japan on Sunday in a solemn ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The prince and Mr. Cameron were among those who laid wreaths at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London in memory of nearly 30,000 Britons who died in the campaign in Asia, which ended with Japan’s surrender on Aug. 14, 1945.

About 12,500 of those who lost their lives died while prisoners of war.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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