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CUBA

Carter meets jailed American and old friend Fidel

HAVANA | Former President Jimmy Carter met with a jailed American contractor whom Cuba refuses to release and greeted former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as "old friends."

Supporters of Alan Gross hoped the communist government would allow Mr. Carter to bring the Maryland native home. He is serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted this month of bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally.

Mr. Carter called Mr. Gross "innocent of any serious crime."

He also sat down Wednesday with Mr. Castro.

"We welcomed each other as old friends," Mr. Carter said.

PARAGUAY

Dengue fever kills 18, infects 13,000

ASUNCION | Dengue fever is raging in Paraguay, with 13,000 patients crowding public hospitals and 18 deaths so far this year.

Deputy Health Minister Edgar Gimenez announced Wednesday that all elective surgeries are being suspended to free up beds. He said the public health system wants to hire 2,000 more doctors and nurses to help respond to the epidemic.

There is no vaccine for so-called bone-break fever, which causes strong pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, death.

Paraguay's toll is already higher than in all of 2007, when 17 died of dengue.

NORTH KOREA

Officials upbeat after talks about nukes

BERLIN | North Korean officials sounded upbeat Wednesday after three days of talks in Germany with former U.S. officials on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and disputes between the two nations.

The six-member North Korean contingent was led by Ri Gun, the director general of the North American Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He called the talks "honest and sincere exchanges" but gave no details because the discussions were private and unofficial.

The United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia had been negotiating since 2003 to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. North Korea pulled out of the talks about two years ago after being censured for launching a long-range rocket.

The American delegation was led by Tom Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs, and organized by the Aspen Institute think tank.

CANADA

Police arrest terror suspect with al Qaeda links

TORONTO | Police arrested a man at Toronto Pearson International Airport who they said was planning to travel to Somalia to join a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Keith Finn said Wednesday that Mohamed Hersi, 25, was arrested as he was about to board a plane Tuesday night. Inspector Finn said Mr. Hersi was planning to join al-Shabaab. He has been charged with attempting to participate in terrorist activities and counseling another person to do the same.

Al-Shabaab is a militia linked to al Qaeda that is trying to overthrow Somalia's transitional government. It has recruited Westerners for its cause.

UNITED KINGDOM

Thunder cat goes for world book record

LONDON | A British community college has recorded a house cat named Smokey with a purr that hit 73 decibels, 16 times louder than the purr of the average feline.

Northampton College in central England said Wednesday that it received a request from Smokey's owner, Ruth Adams, to provide the equipment needed to file an application with Guinness World Records.

The 12-year-old gray-and-white tabby has made several media appearances. Journalists have compared the purr to the sound of a Boeing 747 from a mile away. A video posted to the cat's website (www.smokeythepurringcat.com) made it sound more like the cooing of an angry dove.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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