7 U.S. soldiers wounded by grenade during Afghanistan protest

Posted Feb. 26, 2012, at 7:22 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven U.S. soldiers were wounded Sunday when an insurgent threw a grenade into their base in the northeastern province of Kunduz, local officials said.

The attack took place during a protest in the Imam Sahib district against the burning last week of copies of the Quran and other religious material by U.S. military personnel at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

The burnings triggered a weeklong series of demonstrations across Afghanistan. At least 28 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in clashes between protesters and Afghan security forces.

Sunday’s attack took place after a large crowd attacked a police station, throwing stones at officers before marching on the U.S. base, said Samiullah Qatra, the police chief of Kunduz. Qatra said a Taliban insurgent in the crowd threw the grenade that injured the seven Americans, whom he described as trainers.

A police spokesman said the injured U.S. personnel were special forces soldiers training Afghan local police.

Saudi Arabia raises crude oil output, according to reports

NEW YORK — As crude oil prices reached a nine-month high on concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has increased its crude exports, and the U.S. is pondering releasing oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to media reports Saturday.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has increased production in the past week and offered additional output to its largest customers to contain prices, Reuters reported.

The kingdom has said publicly that it would increase its output to cover any shortfall to the world supply from Iranian exports, Reuters reported.

The newswire, citing unnamed industry sources, said Saudi Arabia had increased exports to just over 9 million barrels a day the week before, compared with an average of about 7.5 million in January. Reuters said it wasn’t clear if the export numbers were the start of a longer Saudi supply addition or a temporary move.

Crude-oil prices rose to more than $125 a barrel after the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog flagged the potential military threat of Iran’s nuclear program, Reuters said, adding the U.N. aborted an inspection mission to Iran this past week.

Army IDs remains of last missing soldier in Iraq

BAGHDAD — The U.S military announced Sunday that it has recovered the remains of the last American service member who was unaccounted for in Iraq, an Army interpreter seized by gunmen after sneaking off base to visit his Iraqi wife in Baghdad during the height of the insurgency.

The remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed al-Taie, who was 41 when militiamen seized him on Oct. 23, 2006, were positively identified at the military’s mortuary in Dover, Del., the Army said in a statement released Sunday. Army officials said they had no further details about the circumstances surrounding his death or the discovery of his remains.

Colombian rebels announce halt to kidnapping

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s main rebel group said Sunday it is abandoning the practice of kidnapping and will soon free its last remaining “prisoners of war” — 10 security force members held for as long as 14 years.

The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, announced on its website that it would no longer kidnap civilians “for financial ends,” marking the first time the group has unequivocally renounced a tool it long used against Colombia’s well-heeled.

It is not clear whether an order has been given to release ransom-kidnapping victims currently held by the rebels, whose number is not known. Nor is it clear, given the insurgency’s decentralized nature, whether the FARC’s ruling seven-man secretariat can enforce its order.

The rebels are known to currently hold four foreigners, all Chinese oil workers abducted last June.

West dismisses Syria constitution vote as ‘farce’

DAMASCUS, Syria — The U.S. and its allies dismissed the Syrian regime’s referendum on a new constitution Sunday as a “farce” meant to justify the bloody crackdown on dissent.

But voters in government strongholds suggested why some Syrians have not joined the uprising against President Bashar Assad: Loyalty, distrust of the opposition and fear his fall will ignite a civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the poll “a cynical ploy” and urged Syrians who still support Assad to turn against him. A “farce” and a “sham vote” was how German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described it.

“It’s a phony referendum and it is going to be used by Assad to justify what he’s doing to other Syrian citizens,” Clinton said in an interview with CBS News in Rabat, Morocco.

“The longer you support the regime’s campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor,” she added, addressing Assad supporters, especially the military. “If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks … your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes.”

While casting his vote at the state broadcasting headquarters, Assad showed no signs of giving in on international demands to end his crackdown. And as he has done in the past, he tried to deflect blame in other directions. He said Syria was under a “media attack.”

“They may be stronger on the airwaves but we are stronger on the ground, and we aspire to win both on the ground and on the airwaves,” he said in footage broadcast on state TV.

The U.S. and its European and Arab allies met Friday at a major international conference on the Syrian crisis in Tunisia, trying to forge a unified strategy to push Assad from power. They began planning a civilian peacekeeping mission to deploy after the regime falls.

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