World Briefs: Afghanistan defense minister steps down

AFGHANISTAN

KABUL — Afghanistan’s defense minister, who played a key role overseeing the rapid expansion of the country’s army, stepped down Tuesday days after receiving a no-confidence vote from parliament.

The resignation of Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the members of President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet who was trusted by Washington, leaves his key ministry without its long-standing leader at a time when Afghan troops are charged with taking over responsibility from international forces by the end of 2014.

Separately, a truck bomb rammed into the gate of a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, seriously wounding several people, while a roadside explosion killed nine civilians riding in a bus near the Afghan capital.

MEXICO

Ernesto heads to Mexicowith strong winds, rain

CANCUN — Tropical Storm Ernesto headed toward landfall near Mexico’s border with Belize on Tuesday, bringing the threat of near-hurricane-force winds and torrential rains to the Caribbean coast.

Soldiers and police were moving 600 residents from the fishing village of Punta Allen in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, where authorities opened emergency shelters and began preparing for the evacuation of other low-lying coastal settlements.

The heart of the storm was expected to hit south of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, though strong rain and winds were likely there, and officials also prepared shelters there as a precaution.

Ernesto was 220 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, and it was moving to the west-northwest at 14 mph.

Forecasters said it was expected to become a hurricane, with winds of at least 74 mph, and hit the coast late Tuesday.

GERMANY

Some conservatives backgay-couple tax breaks

BERLIN — A group of lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party called Tuesday for same-sex couples in civil partnerships to be given the same tax breaks as heterosexual married couples, but the idea faced skepticism among traditionally minded colleagues.

Granting gay couples the same income-tax breaks enjoyed by heterosexual married couples would add to a string of departures from conservative orthodoxy under Mrs. Merkel’s leadership. Those have included abandoning military conscription and speeding up Germany’s exit from nuclear power.

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