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World Briefs: Afghanistan defense minister steps down

- - Tuesday, August 7, 2012

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.

In Germany, same-sex couples have been able to register civil partnerships that legally fall short of formal marriage since 2001. Heterosexual married couples can, unlike same-sex couples, reduce their tax burden by filing joint income-tax returns, thus paying less than single taxpayers.

The partnerships were introduced by a previous center-left government.

CHINA

Shanghai, eastern Chinabrace for Typhoon Haikui

BEIJING — Shanghai and nearby coastal areas rushed Tuesday to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people and order ships to port as China prepared for its third typhoon in less than a week.

The China Meteorological Administration issued a red alert for Typhoon Haikui, the highest so far this year.

It said the storm was strengthening and was likely to hit between the coastal cities of Ningbo and Wenzhou late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Authorities said it would bring heavy rains and strong winds for 48 hours.

Shanghai, which has 23 million people and is the country's financial hub, banned all outdoor group activities, closed all city parks and suspended summer classes. It also stopped all outdoor construction.

The city was evacuating 200,000 people, and the adjoining province of Zhejiang already had evacuated 130,000 people, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said more than 30,000 ships had been called back to shelter in ports.

China is still recovering from typhoons Damrey and Saola, which hit over the weekend. The flooding and landslides from those storms killed 23 people and left nine missing, Xinhua said Tuesday.

EGYPT

Egyptians bury soldiersslain in border attack

CAIRO — Egypt held a military funeral on Tuesday for 16 soldiers killed in an attack over the weekend by suspected Islamist militants in Sinai near the borders with Gaza and Israel.

The ceremonies were disrupted by hecklers who chanted against Egypt's new Islamist leaders, who have condemned the attack but may yet face a backlash against their plans to relax restrictions on Gaza border crossings. Gaza is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

The military has said that 35 gunmen attacked an Egyptian border post, killing the 16 before commandeering an armored vehicle they later used to try to storm across the border into Israel. It has accused Palestinians from Gaza of aiding the gunmen, by firing mortar shells at a nearby border crossing just as the gunmen were attacking.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports