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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed a new alliance of moderate Shiite and Kurdish political leaders that emerged from crisis meetings in Bagh-dad to try to save his wobbly government. The participants signed an agreement that they said ensures a majority in parliament to vote on legislation demanded by the US. Maliki said he'd keep the door open to the Sunni Accordance Front and especially Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's Islamic Party to return to the government "at any time." But a senior Islamic Party leader said, "We are not ready to join this alliance at the current time."

From Asia to Europe, stock markets were reporting new losses Thursday, due to ongoing worries about subprime mortgages in the US and their potential to harm the global economy.Japan's Nikkei index fell below 16000 for the first time in nine months. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 3.3 percent, and the main index in South Korea dropped 6.9 percent. At midday, stock exchanges in London, Paris, and Frankfurt all were off by 2.7 percent or more. The European Union said it would investigate why major credit-rating agencies didn't react faster to early signs of mortgage defaults in the US.

A $30 billion deal for new defense aid was signed by US and Israeli officials Thursday, with the former calling it "the right level" because of the danger to the Jewish state posed by Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that threat "is immediate and it's also long-term." The grant, which is intended to cover the next decade, still must be approved by Congress.

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Eight Taliban prisoners held by Afghanistan's government must be freed before the radical Islamist movement will release any more of the Korean hostages it holds, a spokesman said Thursday. There was no immediate word on a deadline for such a trade as Taliban and South Korean negotiators opened a new round of face-to-face talks on the fate of the 19 remaining hostages Thursday. Two Koreans were freed earlier this week; two others have been executed.

No political reform is necessary in Zimbabwe despite its pressing problems, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa insisted as African leaders opened a regional summit at which turmoil in the struggling country topped the agenda. Chinamasa said his government sees no need to engage in dialogue with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which is "only interested in getting into power through unconstitutional means." The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been accused of being soft on Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and, in introducing him Thursday, host President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia said, "SADC is there for you."

With the Olympic Summer Games less than a year away, China's aviation authority announced a scaling back of arrivals and departures at Beijing's Capital Airport and said no new airlines may operate before 2010. By the end of March, or five months before the Olympics, Beijing will handle no more than 55 flights an hour, it said. The airport is the world's ninth busiest and regularly experiences long delays.

An intensifying hurricane Dean was tracking toward the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Martinique, although forecasters declined to say which of them might bear the brunt when it makes landfall Friday. The hurricane, with sustained winds of 80 m.p.h., is the first of the Atlantic season.

Wealthy suburbs of Athens were in the path of a forest fire being fanned by gale-force winds Thursday, and collapsed power line pylons left much of the area without electricity. The winds were strong enough to keep firefighting aircraft from taking off for almost two hours, allowing the blaze to spread. A week-long fire also charred some Athens suburbs in June.

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