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World Briefs: Panetta tells Afghans U.S. remains committed

- - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

CAMP LEATHERNECK — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, meetings U.S. troops and Afghan leaders Wednesday, said the United States must never lose sight of its mission in the war, despite recent violence, including what appeared to be an attempted attack near the runway of a military base where he was about to land.

"We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission," he told about 200 Marines at Camp Leatherneck. "We will be tested. We will be challenged. We'll be challenged by our enemy. We'll be challenged by ourselves. We'll be challenged by the hell of war, itself.

"But none of that, none of that, must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve."

According to Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, an Afghan stole a vehicle at a British airfield in southern Afghanistan and drove it onto a runway, crashing into a ditch about the same time that Mr. Panetta's aircraft landed.

BANGLADESH

Death toll reaches 114 in ferry sinking

DHAKA — Recovery workers on Wednesday raised the wreckage of a ferry that capsized on a river in Bangladesh while carrying about 200 people, hoping this would reveal the fate of dozens of passengers still missing.

The death toll rose to 114, and rescuers continued to search for more bodies.

The ferry collided with a cargo boat and capsized in the darkness of Tuesday morning, sending hundreds of people into the Meghna River, just south of the capital, Dhaka.

KUWAIT

Saudi oil chief pledges to offset shortfalls

KUWAIT CITY — Saudi Arabia's top oil official said Wednesday his country and other oil exporters are ready to offset any shortfalls in supply, as fears of a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program help drive prices higher.

The Saudi comments from Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi were followed by a call from a senior American energy official for increased production to relieve what he sees as "tight" markets that are keeping prices high.

The official, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, cautioned that rising crude prices could put the economic recovery at risk.

RUSSIA

Russia to offer air base to U.S. for Afghan transit

MOSCOW — A new deal allowing the United States and its NATO allies to use a Russian air base to deploy troops and military cargo to Afghanistan would help ensure Russia's own security, Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday.

Sergey Lavrov said a plan to permit the use of a base in the city of Ulyanovsk on the Volga River will soon be considered by the Russian Cabinet.

Moscow has provided NATO with air corridors and railway routes for carrying supplies to and from Afghanistan.

The new deal would for the first time allow alliance members to set up a logistics facility for troops and cargo on Russian territory.

SYRIA

Troops attack Daraa; opposition in disarray

BEIRUT — Syrian forces fired mortars and heavy machine-guns Wednesday in an attack on the southern city where the anti-government uprising began, propelled by recent military victories over rebels as the opposition fell into disarray.

At least two prominent Syrian dissidents said they have quit the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, calling it an "autocratic" organization.

The opposition has been hobbled by disorganization and infighting since the popular revolt against President Bashar Assad began a year ago.

SWITZERLAND

Bus crash kills 28, including 22 children

GENEVA — A tour bus slammed into a tunnel wall in the Swiss Alps, killing 22 schoolchildren and six adults returning to Belgium from a ski vacation, police said Wednesday.

Another 24 students were hospitalized after one of the deadliest highway accidents in Swiss history left the front of the bus mangled, trapping some people inside.

The bus carrying 52 people, including students of around age 12 from two Belgian schools, hit the tunnel wall shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday on a highway near the southern town of Sierre.

CUBA

Dissidents occupy church, seek papal audience

HAVANA — Thirteen Cuban dissidents have holed up in a Roman Catholic church in Havana to press for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits in two weeks, saying they want to air their grievances about human rights on the communist-ruled island.

The Church of Charity in teeming Central Havana was partially shuttered Wednesday, and only pilgrims visiting an image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba's patron, were permitted inside.

There was no sign of any police presence, and activity appeared normal on the street outside.

From wire dispatches and staff reports