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Gift-wrapped bombs force evacuation

ASPEN, Colo. : A onetime resident of this city who had been bitter over its transformation into a playground for the rich left four gift-wrapped bombs downtown in a bank-robbery attempt, turning New Year's Eve celebrations into a mass evacuation, police said yesterday. The bombs were made of gasoline and cell phone parts and came with notes warning of "mass death." The 72-year-old man suspected of placing them in two banks and an alleyway on Wednesday shot himself a short time later, police said. The body of James Chester Blanning, who grew up in Aspen and had lived in Denver since 2003, was found yesterday, police said. A man walked into two Aspen banks about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and left packages wrapped in holiday paper along with notes saying that the boxes contained bombs, police said. The notes demanded $60,000 cash and included criticisms of President George W. Bush, Assistant Aspen Police Chief Bill Linn said at a news conference.

Russian gas exports to Europe threatened

MOSCOW: Russia's state gas monopoly halted natural gas exports to Ukraine yesterday in a dispute that could interrupt fuel supplies to other European countries - and taps into the deep animosity between Russia and its pro-Western neighbors. Despite weeks of negotiations between Gazprom and Ukraine, the two parties were unable to come to terms over Ukraine's unpaid debts, as well as the cost of gas and transit fees in the new year. Gazprom said that, with no contract in place dictating sales for 2009, there were no grounds to continue exporting gas to Ukraine. Eager to soothe worries about broader interruptions, Russia increased supplies of natural gas to other European customers. About one-fifth of the gas bound for the European Union passes through Ukraine, and analysts say Europe could do without Russian supplies only for several days.

Ghana's ruling party could boycott key vote

ACCRA, Ghana: Ghana's ruling party threatened to boycott a district's presidential revote today that could decide the African country's next leader. But there was no indication the vote would be canceled. Ruling party spokesman Arthur Kennedy said yesterday that the situation in the western district of Tain is not conducive to a fair vote because the party's supporters were being intimidated. Voters in the tiny district were unable to vote in a tight runoff Sunday because of problems distributing ballots to polling stations there. The Electoral Commission said the national vote count was so close, Tain could end up deciding the winner.

60,000 seek roles in inaugural events

WASHINGTON: An unprecedented 60,000 people have sent applications to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to volunteer for activities surrounding the swearing-in of Barack Obama - even if it means simply giving directions or friendly hellos to out-of-towners at airports and Metro stops. With several days of events, including the Jan. 20 swearing-in, the committee needs 15,000 to 18,000 volunteers, officials said, or three times as many as were called upon for the inaugurations of George W. Bush.

2 dead in fiery plane crash at Ill. airport

JOLIET, Ill.: The Federal Aviation Administration said two people were killed when a plane crashed at Joliet Regional Airport in suburban Chicago. FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said there were two fatalities and "an aircraft that burned" in the crash late yesterday. Joliet Park District executive director Dominic Egizio said the crash occurred about 9 p.m. The district operates the airport. Egizio said the skies were clear over Joliet at the time of the crash. He said the plane was likely a two- to four-seater.

Zune players overcome glitch, Microsoft says

Many of Microsoft's Zune media players that froze up on the last day of 2008 because of a glitch involving their internal clocks were functioning properly yesterday as the new year was ushered in, according to the company. Microsoft spokesman Brian Eskridge said that, based on responses from customers and his review of online message forums, affected users of the 30-gigabyte Zune model were not having further problems after fully recharging their devices and powering them on again. But, by midmorning yesterday, a few people were still complaining on one online Zune forum about their devices not booting up.

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