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18 Pakistani-based al-Qaeda militants are killed in attacks by US drones

Two US drone attacks killed 18 militants in Pakistan yesterday, local intelligence officials said, after recent Nato incursions raised tensions with an ally Washington needs in efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

The US has widened pilotless drone aircraft missile strikes against militants linked to al-Qaeda in Pakistan's northwest, with 21 attacks in September alone, the highest number recorded in a single month.

Angered by repeated incursions by Nato helicopters last week, Pakistan blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan after one such strike killed three Pakistani soldiers on Thursday in the northwestern Kurram region.

Pakistan is a crucial ally for the United States in its efforts to pacify Afghanistan, but analysts say border incursions and disruptions in Nato supplies underline growing tensions in the relationship.

Yesterday's drone attacks took place within hours of each other in Datta Khel town in the North Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border, intelligence officials said. "In the first attack, two missiles were fired at a house, while in the second attack four missiles targeted a house and a vehicle. The death toll in the two attacks reached 18," said one intelligence official. At least six foreigners were killed in the first strike.

Voters go to polls in crisis-hit Latvia

Latvians were voting yesterday after enduring the sharpest recession in the EU, and their verdict could determine the country's commitment to its IMF-led austerity programme and the goal of euro entry in 2014.

Before the election for the 100-seat parliament, opinion polls suggested the centre-right coalition under Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis had a chance of returning to power, probably safeguarding the austerity plan that came with a €7.5bn bailout agreed at the end of 2008.

But an opposition party with strong support among the large Russian minority hopes anger over the crisis will win it the largest share of the vote, including from some disillusioned ethnic Latvians, and a place in government for the first time since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

The Harmony Centre party has said it would seek revisions to the loan deal with the IMF and the EU. It also raised the prospect of seeking funds and investment from countries such as China and Russia.

Icelandic PM egged over downturn

A CROWD of 2,000 gathered in the Icelandic capital to protest the opening of parliament. Reykjavik police said protesters angry about the economy threw eggs and tomatoes at Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and other politicians as they made their way to the parliament on Friday.

Riot police managed to control the situation and no one was hurt. At least one man was arrested.

Many Icelanders are angry about the government's handling of the financial crash, which brought the economy to a standstill by collapsing its currency.

The demonstrators have called for another protest to take place tomorrow, when Mr Sigurdardottir is due to make an annual speech to mark the parliament opening.

Nigeria car-bomb death toll rises to 12

The death toll from car bombs that exploded near a parade marking Nigeria's 50 years of independence rose to 12 yesterday and reports emerged that authorities had been warned of an attack but failed to avert it.

A police spokesman in the capital Abuja said 12 people were confirmed dead and 17 injured in Friday's blasts, which went off about an hour after an emailed bomb threat from a rebel group in the oil-producing Niger delta.

Nigerian newspaper This Day, citing sources in the presidency, said British intelligence had got wind of plans for an attack and passed on a warning to Abuja, but to no avail. "We tried our best, working on several locations, but somehow we couldn't foil the plot," the paper quoted an unnamed senior minister as saying.

Passenger plane in emergency landing

A jumbo jet with more than 300 people on board had to make an emergency landing yesterday after the handle on one of the doors was reported to be moving, according to the airline British Airways.

The British Airways Boeing 747, heading to New York, had taken off from Heathrow Airport and was over London at 9.20am when a light in the cockpit indicated there was a problem with one of the doors. The pilot turned the aircraft, with 296 passengers and 15 crew on board, around to land at Heathrow.

The plane was airborne for 11 minutes, according to a spokeswoman for BA. She added that a full investigation was under way and the passengers were being put on another flight to continue their journey.

The spokeswoman said: "The airplane returned to the airport as a precaution, because the handle on one of the doors was moving. At no time was the door open."

Druids get official recognition in UK

DRUIDS have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe, but now their UK brethren can say they are an officially recognised religion.

The ancient pagan tradition has been formally classified as a religion under charity law for the first time in the UK. That means druids can receive exemptions from taxes on donations -- and have the same status as mainstream religions, such as Catholicism.

Sunday Independent