Afghan Defense Minister

Is Targeted in Shooting

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's defense minister escaped an assassination attempt near Kabul's airport, and in a separate, apparently unrelated incident Saturday, a senior official was injured when a helicopter carrying several cabinet ministers crash-landed in northern Panjshir province, Afghan officials said.

Rahim Wardak, the defense minister, had already been dropped off at the airport, so he was not hurt when nine gunmen wearing police uniforms opened fire on his vehicle as it pulled away, according to Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi, a ministry spokesman. One of the gunmen was killed in an ensuing gun battle, and the others were caught, Azimi said.

He said the gunmen's motives were unclear and an investigation was underway.

-- N.C. Aizenman

EUROPE

* KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's new acting prime minister, Yuri Yekhanurov, returned to the country's eastern region, promising to boost the flagging economy while the nation waited to hear what changes to expect from the new team chosen to replace the shattered Orange Revolution coalition.

Yekhanurov's predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, signaled Friday that she was moving to the opposition after President Viktor Yushchenko dismissed her government.

ASIA

* MANILA -- A majority of Filipinos polled want President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to go, either by impeachment or her resignation, an independent survey showed.

Arroyo survived an attempt in the lower house to impeach her last week, averting a Senate trial that would have examined allegations that she cheated her way into a fresh six-year term last year.

Interviews with about 1,200 people by Social Weather Stations ended just before Arroyo's majority in Congress threw out three impeachment complaints against her. The survey showed that 79 percent of those polled wanted her impeached, and 64 percent favored resignation.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A strong earthquake rocked Indonesia's tsunami-battered Aceh province, causing residents to flee their homes in panic.

The magnitude 5.8 earthquake was centered under the Indian Ocean, about 20 miles northwest of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, said an official at the Jakarta office of the Meteorological and Geophysical Agency.

* BAKU, Azerbaijan -- More than 2,000 orange-clad opposition members rallied in the Azerbaijani capital, demanding that President Ilham Aliyev resign and that authorities ensure that parliamentary elections in November are free and fair.

Mounting pressure on authorities has led some observers to predict the nation could see a popular uprising similar to those in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

* BEIJING -- China, which bans its Catholics from recognizing the Pope, turned down a Vatican invitation to four Chinese bishops to go to Rome, saying it showed no respect.

Beijing has not had diplomatic ties with the Vatican since 1951, and insists that relations cannot be resumed unless Rome severs links with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

THe Middle East

* JERUSALEM -- Israel threatened to deliver a harsh response to any attacks from Gaza after Israeli troops leave the territory this week and hand it over to the Palestinians.

Egypt, meanwhile, deployed the first of 750 soldiers assigned to police the volatile Gaza border to prevent arms smuggling and illicit crossings after the Israelis end their 38-year occupation.

* DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syrian President Bashar Assad met with leaders of 10 militant Palestinian groups based in Syria, defying U.S. pressure to crack down on the groups.

The meeting came as Syria is facing international demands that it cooperate with a U.N. probe into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

-- From News Services