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AFGHANISTAN

Bomb at U.S. base reminder of Afghan war

KABUL | A powerful Taliban truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers and killed five Afghans outside a combat outpost served as a reminder on Sunday that 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are still fighting a war that shows no signs of slowing down.

No U.S. troops were killed when the massive bomb loaded on a truck filled with firewood exploded Saturday night just outside the gates of Combat Outpost Sayed Abad in eastern Wardak province.

Officials said four of those killed were civilians, including a 3-year-old girl. Another 17 people - 14 civilians and three policemen - were wounded.

The provincial governor said the blast was so powerful it damaged about 100 shops in the Sayed Abad bazaar, located near the military base.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier, they had issued a statement vowing to fight until all foreign troops leave.

The radical Islamic movement, which gave shelter to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda when it ruled Afghanistan, also stressed that it had no role in the Sept. 11 attacks, and it accused the U.S. of using them as a pretext to invade the country.

EGYPT

Military ruler fails to attend Mubarak trial

CAIRO | Egypt’s military ruler and one-time confidant of Hosni Mubarak failed to attend a court session Sunday that was expected to bring highly anticipated testimony about the ousted president’s alleged role in the death of protesters and possibly offer insider revelations about the regime’s final days.

The no-show by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi was a major disappointment for Egyptians seeking to have the reckoning over the bloodshed reach to the highest levels. It also could reflect hesitation by Mr. Mubarak’s former allies to face him in court and possibly shed embarrassing secrets.

The judge immediately requested Field Marshal Tantawi to return to court Sept. 24.

The report on Egyptian State TV did not give a reason for Field Marshal Tantawi’s absence in court.

But a defense lawyer said Field Marshal Tantawi told the court he was ready to submit written testimony since he was dealing with the fallout after the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Friday by protest mobs.

The trial is seen as a test between Egypt’s traditional power structure and the impatience for clear breaks with the past seven months after Mr. Mubarak was toppled and power shifted to a military council.

GUATEMALA

Retired general favored in presidential election

GUATEMALA CITY | A former military general who softened his image as the “iron fist” to promote social programs and democracy but appeared to be a favorite to control Guatemala’s epidemic crime rates was the leading candidate heading into Sunday’s presidential election.

Voters disappointed in outgoing President Alvaro Colom’s failure to reduce crime have indicated that Otto Perez Molina may be the best person to lead the charge in a nation with one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere.

Violence is epidemic in this nation of 14.7 million people, and organized crime has overrun many regions. Guatemala has a murder rate of 45 per 100,000, according to a report by the World Bank.

Mr. Perez, who lost to Mr. Colom in 2007, would be the first former military leader elected president since democracy was restored in the country in 1986, after the military dictatorships of the 1970s and ‘80s.

A U.N.-sponsored truth commission found that 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, 93 percent of them by state forces and paramilitary groups.

Nonetheless, many credit Mr. Perez as having played a key role in the march toward democracy, including negotiating the 1996 peace accords that ended the conflict.

IRAQ

Cleric: No anti-U.S. attacks before pullout

NAJAF | Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers not to launch any attacks on U.S. troops before a year-end deadline for their withdrawal, in a statement seen on Sunday.

Mr. al-Sadr’s remarks came just days after he backtracked on a call for popular anti-government rallies. U.S. forces have accused militias linked to the cleric of largely being behind attacks on its soldiers.

“In order that Iraq can recover its independence through the withdrawal of the invaders from our territory, I judge it indispensable to halt all armed resistance operations until the complete withdrawal of the occupying forces,” Mr. al-Sadr said in the statement originally issued Saturday.

“If the pullout is completed and there is no longer a single U.S. soldier on our territory, the military operations will end definitively, but if that is not the case and Iraq remains in a state of dependency, they will resume with greater vigor.”

He said his movement was working “hand in hand with the government to achieve the liberation of the country and supporting it against U.S. pressure.”

The cleric’s bloc holds six Cabinet posts and has 40 seats in parliament.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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