A roadside bomb blast killed the leading sheikh in the alliance of Sunni clans against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha had met with President Bush in Anbar Province less than two weeks ago. Analysts said it was unclear how his death would affect US efforts to keep the Anbar Salvation Council organized against terrorism. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near Ramadi, which also took the lives of two bodyguards, but Islamist extremist websites quickly praised it.

Government troops supported by NATO forces in southern Af-ghanistan killed 75 Taliban militants as Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, began, officials said Thursday. They said no coalition soldiers had been hurt despite a Taliban attack on a patrol in Uruzgan Province. A spokesman said that despite Ramadan, the Taliban "have shown they will shun peaceful coexistence. Fortunately, [the Afghan Army] is improving their tactics."

American, Russian, and Chinese diplomats finished an inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities Thursday, calling it "useful." The visitors toured the home of the North's weapons program at the invitation of the government in Pyongyang to help determine how best to disable it so that bombmaking material can't be produced. Analysts said the invitation and the tour are the latest signs that the North is serious about disarming.

Two more powerful earthquakes jolted Indonesia, triggering new tsunami warnings and chasing residents away from both its west and east coasts. Early reports put the number of deaths from Wednesday's magnitude-8.4 quake at nine, but ongoing communications problems made accurate damage assessments difficult. UN sources said the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System, put in place following the massive December 2004 quake off Indonesia, alerted people as far away as Kenya within six minutes of the Wednesday temblor.

Prime Minister-designate Viktor Zubkov of Russia deepened the intrigue around his nomination by declining to rule out a campaign to succeed President Vladimir Putin. Zubkov is expected to be confirmed easily by parliament Friday. But analysts say if he should become president in next year's election, it might only be in a caretaker capacity. Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term, although he could run again in 2012.

Saying, "I want to take the lead," Japan's Finance Minister became the first to announce his candidacy for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and, thus, the new head of government. But Fukushiro Nukaga is considered certain to face a rival bid by LDP secretary-general Taro Aso when the party votes Sept. 23 on a successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who abruptly resigned Wednesday.

Going against the advice of the UN and the European Union, Serbia's government called on voters in Kosovo to boycott the Nov. 17 election for a new legislature. "There are no basic security and other conditions for Serbs and non-Albanians," it said. Serb political parties already boycott Kosovo's legislature, although eight of them had registered to participate in this election. They said they would comply with the request, however. On a similar order, Serbs also sat out the last election in Kosovo, in 2004.

Human-rights activists reacted angrily to a vote by Parliament in Kenya Wednesday that appears to shield lawmakers from being investigated for their roles in certain scandals. The move bars the Anti-Corruption Commission from probing cases of graft that occurred before 2003, the year it was set up by President Mwai Kibaki. He won office a year earlier, in part by pledging to clean up government after two high- profile scandals – known as Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing – cost the treasury an estimated $630 million that allegedly went into politicians' pockets.

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