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AFGHANISTAN

Election observers note fraud concerns

KABUL | The main Afghan election observer group said Sunday that it had serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend’s parliamentary vote because of reported fraud, even as President Hamid Karzai commended the balloting as a solid success.

The conflicting statements underscored the difficulty of determining the credibility of the vote, also hit by militant attacks that hurt the turnout. Afghan officials started gathering and tallying results Sunday in a process that could take weeks, if not months, to complete.

The country’s international backers offered praise for those who voted Saturday despite bomb and rocket attacks, and voiced hope for a democratic result. A repeat of the pervasive fraud that tainted the presidential election a year ago would further erode the standing of the Karzai administration - both at home and abroad - as it struggles against a Taliban insurgency.

The first vote counts are to be made public in a few days, but full preliminary results are not expected until early October. Then there will be weeks of fraud investigations before winners are officially announced for the 249 parliamentary seats, which were contested by about 2,500 candidates.

MEXICO

Kidnapped officers found slain

ACAPULCO | The bodies of six kidnapped police officers, most of them dismembered, were found Sunday in a ravine in the Mexican state of Guerrero, bringing to eight the death toll from a mass abduction of policemen, officials said.

Fernando Monreal Leyva, director of State Investigative Police, said one survivor of the massacre was located in this coastal state known for beach resorts that has become a drug cartel battleground.

Two other bodies were found Saturday, accounting for all nine officers who disappeared Friday after going to identify a body in the community of El Revelado, located about 165 miles south of Mexico City. Authorities said they later learned that the officers had been abducted by gunmen.

Four of the six bodies had been dismembered and were found with a warning note apparently directed at authorities, Mr. Monreal said.

The bodies included the group’s chief, Commander Enrique Figueroa Abundes, said Mr. Monreal, who declined to name the survivor. He did not say who was suspected in the killings.

Mexico’s government says the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas gang are fighting for control of the region with La Familia Michoacana. The state was also a base for detained drug lord Sergio Valdez Villarreal - alias “La Barbie” - who was fighting for control of the Beltran Leyva cartel with Hector Beltran Leyva.

CHINA

Officials suspend exchanges with Japan

BEIJING | China said Sunday that it had suspended senior bilateral exchanges with Japan over an incident in disputed waters and warned that relations with Tokyo had been “severely hurt.”

The announcement was made after a Japanese court authorized prosecutors to extend by 10 days the detention of a Chinese captain accused of ramming his trawler against Japanese patrol boats in the East China Sea.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his counterpart, Naoto Kan, were preparing to fly to New York to attend a U.N. gathering, where they will meet with President Obama in separate talks.

According to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, China also has halted contact with Japan on increasing civilian flights between the two countries and a meeting on coal has been postponed.

Japanese authorities arrested Zhan Qixiong, the Chinese captain, on Sept. 8, but have released his crew and boat. Mr. Zhan’s initial detention on suspicion of obstructing official duties had been set to end Sunday.

Xinhua reported that Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya made “solemn representations” to Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa on Sunday evening over Mr. Zhan’s extended detention.

“The incident created by the Japanese side has severely damaged China-Japan relations,” Mr. Wang was quoted as saying. “Japan shall bear all the consequences that arise.”

ISRAEL

Russia-Syria arms deal to proceed

JERUSALEM | Israel’s prime minister said Sunday that he failed to block Russian plans to sell Syria anti-ship cruise missiles that his country fears could fall into the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas.

Syria is a key backer of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has used Russian-made weapons against Israel in the past. Russian anti-tank missiles were among the militant group’s most effective weapons during its month-long war with Israel in 2006.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the deal to sell Syria P-800 missiles would be “very problematic” for the Jewish state.

“We have been aware of this deal for some time, and there were discussions with the Russians at every level,” Mr. Netanyahu told a closed meeting of Cabinet ministers from his Likud Party. His comments were confirmed by a meeting participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

A string of Israeli leaders raised concerns about the deal, most recently Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a trip to Moscow this month. Israeli defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter, said Mr. Barak was told the sale would be completed.

Russia’s defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, announced in Washington last week that his government would go ahead with the deal, signed in 2007. Israel and the U.S. have voiced objections.

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