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President of Serbia to meet with Kosovo's Albanian leaders

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Serbian President Boris Tadic announced yesterday that he will meet with ethnic Albanian leaders of the breakaway Kosovo province, the first top-level, face-to-face talks between the former warring sides.

The U.N.-sponsored gathering, tentatively set for Monday in Vienna, Austria, will seek an agreement on the future status of the province. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on full independence, but the Serb minority and Belgrade government want to retain some control.

Kosovo - seen as Serbia's historic heartland - has been run by the United Nations and patrolled by international peacekeepers since a 1999 NATO aerial bombardment halted a crackdown by Serb forces on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.

U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, was named by the world body to mediate talks between the two sides.

Associated Press

Gunmen kill several at pre-election rally

KINSHASA, Congo -- Gunmen opened fire on an election rally and killed several people in Congo's volatile east, the United Nations reported yesterday, the latest outburst of violence as the nation prepares for its first free legislative and presidential balloting in 46 years. Local radio stations said seven people died at the meeting to hear independent legislative candidate Jean-Luc Mutokambale, who fled across the border to Uganda. U.N. spokesman Kemal Saiki said several were killed but he didn't provide an exact figure on casualties.

Taliban are ousted from Afghan town

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan --The second of two towns seized by the Taliban went back into government hands yesterday with relatively little bloodshed after more than 1,000 U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops swept into the area. Two Afghan soldiers were wounded and two Taliban were killed in the battle to retake Garmser, a remote town of about 50,000 people on the Helmand River, officials said. A U.S. military spokesman said the scanty resistance showed insurgents were weaker than they appeared. The brief Taliban takeovers of Garmser and Naway-i-Barakzayi, 20 miles to the north, underscored the persistent security challenges facing foreign and Afghan forces across the volatile south.

North, South Korea split remains wide

SEOUL, South Korea --North Korea said yesterday it would halt reunions of relatives split by the heavily fortified border, and South Korea's president made his strongest comments yet against the communist nation's recent missile tests in a further blow to reconciliation efforts. In the wake of a U.N. Security Council resolution against the North's launches, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tokyo won't rush to impose more sanctions on Pyongyang while it waits for a response from the reclusive country. On July 5, the North defied international opposition and tested a long-range missile believed capable of reaching the U.S., along with six other short- and medium-range missiles. The move prompted the Security Council to pass a resolution over the weekend barring U.N. member countries from missile-related dealings with the North.

Britain swelters in summer heat

LONDON --Judges removed their wigs inside the courts. Guards at Buckingham Palace were allowed to stand in the shade. Some workers wore shorts to the office. Britain was facing one of its hottest days on record yesterday - so hot the pavement melted on the roadways. Other parts of Europe sizzled, too, but this is a country particularly ill-equipped for its infrequent brushes with sweltering temperatures. The mid-afternoon temperature at Heathrow Airport was 95.5 degrees. The record is 101 degrees in Faversham, Kent, on Aug. 10, 2003. The temperature south of London hit 96.6 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Britain in July.

Lagos building falls, killing at least 14

A four-story apartment building collapsed overnight in Nigeria's commercial capital, and Red Cross officials helping pull survivors out of the rubble yesterday said at least 14 people were killed. Up to 180 people were believed to have been inside in the building, located in a poor Lagos district, but it was not known how many were home when it suddenly collapsed Tuesday night. Red Cross official Timothy Oladene said 36 people, many of them wounded and caked with dust and debris, had been rescued and taken to hospitals across the city.

From wire reports

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