- - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

AFGHANISTAN

KABUL — A suicide bomber killed 21 people including three U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint in a packed market in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday - the third assault targeting Americans in as many days.

The daily violence is threatening to undermine international hopes of an orderly hand-over to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

Although U.S. officials stress successes in establishing pockets of governance in some areas, the east and south continue to be plagued by regular attacks and clashes.

Wednesday’s attack took place in a marketplace in the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border and about 90 miles southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The assailant approached on foot through the shops and taxi stands packed with people, then detonated his explosives as he approached Afghan and U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint, said Baryalai Wakman, a spokesman for the Khost provincial government.

UNITED KINGDOM

Assange faces arrest if he leaves embassy

LONDON — British police stood poised Wednesday to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should he step outside the Ecuadorian Embassy - but authorities conceded he is beyond their grasp as long as he stays inside.

Mr. Assange says he is seeking political asylum at the South American nation’s diplomatic mission. Police said he had violated the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew, and “is now subject to arrest.”

The 40-year-old Australian took refuge in the embassy a few doors down from the Harrods department store Tuesday. He said he was seeking political asylum in Ecuador, whose leftist President Rafael Correa previously has offered words of support.

Mr. Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden’s request. Since then, he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in August 2010.

He denies the allegations and says the case against him is politically motivated.

BRAZIL

Environmental summit opens in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO — A U.N. conference on the environment opened Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, where 193 countries are participating. The global body said it’s the biggest meeting it has ever organized.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon got the Rio+20 summit rolling Wednesday, saying progress on environmental issues has been slow since Rio hosted the landmark Earth Summit in 1992.

But he said he’s hopeful negotiators are within reach of a “historic agreement” on sustainable development issues, such as protections for oceans, helping poor nations use renewable energy and protecting forests.

Environmentalist groups complain that the summit’s conclusions are weak and make virtually no advances over what governments promised two decades ago.

FRANCE

Gunman captured, hostages released

TOULOUSE — A gunman who had past psychiatric problems took four people hostage Wednesday morning in a CIC bank branch in Toulouse, claiming he was acting for religious reasons, then was captured in a police raid about six hours later, authorities said.

The hostages were released unharmed, and the hostage-taker was slightly injured, regional police official Frederic Tamisier said. Another police official said he was hurt in the leg, though the cause of the injury was unclear.

Gunshots were heard from the site around the time the gunman was captured.

MEXICO

Survey finds wide support for drug war

MEXICO CITY — A new survey finds that 8 in 10 Mexicans support the military crackdown against drug traffickers launched in 2006.

The poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center finds that 83 percent of those questioned support the army’s active role in the fight.

Most also worry about human rights violations by the military and police with about 74 percent citing concerns about possible abuse.

The survey by the Washington-based center is based on face-to-face interviews with 1,200 Mexicans from across the country from March 20 to April 2. The error rate is 3.8 percentage points.

More than 47,000 people have been killed in drug violence nationwide since President Felipe Calderon began deploying thousands of troops to drug hot spots in December 2006.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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