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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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CHINA

Wen inspiring debate with calls for reform

BEIJING | Calls for reform of China’s political system have come repeatedly in the past few months from an unexpected source — the country’s prime minister — and his surprising remarks are stirring consternation and debate in the Communist Party as it prepares for a new generation of leaders.

For a leadership that has tried to present a unified front as it manages a fast-changing society, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s comments on the need for the rule of law and political reforms to undergird economic success seem out of step.

“Without political reform, China may lose what it has already achieved through economic restructuring,” Mr. Wen was quoted as saying in August.

Mr. Wen’s remarks form the backdrop as the 200-plus leading members of the party gather Friday for a four-day annual policy meeting, although they are not expected to be formally discussed.

AFGHANISTAN

8 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan

KABUL | Eight NATO service members were killed in a spate of attacks in Afghanistan on Thursday, including four in roadside bombings, bringing the alliance’s troop losses over the past two days to 14, officials said.

It has been the deadliest year for international forces in the nine-year Afghan conflict. Troop numbers have been ramped up to turn the screws on insurgents, and casualties have mounted. The escalating toll has shaken the commitment of many NATO countries, with calls growing to start drawing down forces quickly.

A homemade bomb in western Afghanistan killed three service members Thursday, an alliance statement said without giving the nationalities of the dead or the specific location of the attack. American, Italian, Spanish and Lithuanian forces are deployed in the country’s west.

NATO later announced an additional four troops died in the south — three in insurgent attacks and another in an explosion.

VIETNAM

Boat, crew missing after China frees them

HANOI | A Vietnamese fishing boat and its nine crew members were still missing days after China told Vietnam it had freed the sailors a month after detaining them near disputed islands, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

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