KABUL, Afghanistan

NATO chopper downed, four U.S. troops killed

Insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter and killed four American troops in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the military said, in the latest bloodshed ahead of a major operation in the militants’ heartland.

The violence came as Afghanistan’s ousted intelligence chief warned in an interview with The Associated Press that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s strategy of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban was dangerously flawed.

The deaths, and that of a British soldier killed by an improvised bomb in a separate attack Wednesday, take NATO’s toll to 29 deaths in nine days, according to an AP count. The United States, whose some 94,000 troops vastly outnumber the rest of the allies’ contributions in Afghanistan, has lost 17 service members since Sunday.

It is part of a spike in violence that comes as U.S. commanders put the final touches on a plan to secure the Taliban’s southern heartland of Kandahar, an operation they hope will turn the tide of the nearly nine-year-old war.


Clam boat dredges up old mustard gas canisters

Crews have begun decontaminating a clam boat that pulled up eight munitions shells containing mustard gas.

The boat has been isolated off the coast of New Bedford, Mass., for the past few days.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall says officials are hoping the New Jersey-based vessel, the ESS Pursuit, will be free to leave by Thursday. He said cleanup crews are relying heavily on elbow grease and bleach, which dilutes the mustard gas.

The Coast Guard had said earlier that the crew pulled up two military shells off Long Island on Sunday. On Wednesday the number of shells was revised to eight.

A crewman was hospitalized Monday with blisters from mustard gas exposure.


Israeli document: Blockade is use of ‘economic warfare’

As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip Wednesday, an Israeli government document describes the blockade not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.

Israel imposed severe restrictions on Gaza in June 2007, after Hamas won elections and took control of the coastal enclave after winning elections the previous year, and the government has long said the aim of the blockade is to stem the flow of weapons to militants in Gaza.

Last week, after Israeli commandos killed nine volunteers on a Turkish-organized Gaza aid flotilla, Israel again said its aim was to stop the flow of terrorist arms into Gaza.

However, in response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,’ ” the government said.


Heart problems affect short people more, study finds

Short people have a 50 percent higher risk of having a heart problem or dying from one than tall people, a new study says, though weight, blood pressure and smoking habits remain more important factors.

Previous studies have suggested a link between height and heart problems like angina, heart attacks and angioplasties. This is the first major review of such studies, including research from around the world, confirming the relationship.

Researchers in Finland looked at 52 previous papers with data on height and heart problems in more than 3 million men and women.

Experts did not consider patients’ heights objectively, but within the context of a particular country’s population. They found the shortest people in the population were one and a half times more likely to have heart problems or die from them than the tallest people.

On average, short people were under 5 feet 3 inches and tall people were at least 5 feet 9 inches.


Stowaway in wheel well of 747 jet survives flight

A 20-year-old Romanian looking for work hid in the wheel well of a jet in Vienna and survived a 90-minute flight to London, police said Wednesday.

The man told British authorities that he crawled “under the wire” of the Vienna airport’s perimeter fence and climbed into the undercarriage of a private Boeing 747 parked near a construction site for a new terminal.

After landing at London’s Heathrow Airport, the man — who claimed he was looking for a job — apparently fell out of the gear’s compartment and was apprehended by police.


Catholic group rebuffed in bid to honor Mother Theresa

The Empire State Building’s owner says he won’t light the landmark skyscraper for Mother Teresa because of a policy against honoring individual religious figures.

Anthony Malkin’s statement Wednesday comes amid an uproar over the decision not to illuminate the building in blue and white lights in August on what would have been the late Nobel Prize winner’s 100th birthday.

A lay group, the Catholic League, made the request in February and was denied.



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