Dissident Shi Tao
is released early

China has granted early release from prison to a prominent dissident and journalist who was jailed in 2005 for leaking state secrets abroad after Yahoo was accused of helping authorities identify him, a rights group said Saturday.

Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yahoo defended itself at the time, saying it had to abide by local laws.

The group PEN International said late Saturday that Shi had been released 15 months before the end of his sentence.

“We welcome news of Shi Tao’s early release, at a time when there seem to be increasingly long shadows over freedom of expression in China,” the group’s Marian Botsford Fraser said in a statement.

“Shi Tao’s arrest and imprisonment, because of the actions of Yahoo China, signaled a decade ago the challenges to freedom of expression of Internet surveillance and privacy that we are now dealing with.”

It was not immediately clear why Shi had been let out early.

— Reuters

NATO accused of civilian deaths

Afghan officials accused NATO of killing civilians in an airstrike that left at least 10 people dead in the country’s remote east, while the Taliban on Sunday carried out a car-bomb and gun attack outside an Afghan intelligence office, killing four soldiers and wounding more than 80 people.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government reacted angrily to a comment by a U.S. envoy, who said Afghanistan is experiencing “a civil war.” Aimal Faizi, a government spokesman, said in a rebuke that if James Dobbins’s assertion were true, then the United States had been an actor in a civil war instead of fighting a battle against terrorism.

The airstrike and Taliban attack underscored the chronic insecurity in Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign forces reduce their presence and hand over more responsibilities to Afghan troops. The car bombing occurred in Maidan Shahr, a city in eastern Wardak province just 25 miles from Kabul.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said that the explosion occurred around 1 p.m. and that many of the wounded were Afghan government employees working in nearby offices. Soldiers guarding the compound killed the militants in the aftermath, he said. Khogyani said four soldiers and five attackers died, in addition to the car bomber.

The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports emerged about the airstrike in the Watapur district of Konar, a province along the border with Pakistan. Many Arab and other foreign insurgents are thought to operate there alongside the Afghan Taliban. Some are suspected to have links to al-Qaeda.

A police official put the number of dead at 15, including four women and four children. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office later put the death toll at 16, saying only that women and children were among the victims.

First Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a NATO spokeswoman, said that the alliance carried out a “precision strike” that killed 10 “enemy forces” but that it had received no reports of civilian deaths.

— Associated Press

Anti-Islam label cost votes, ex-leader says

The first democratically elected president of the Maldives said Sunday that his rivals’ portrayal of him as anti-Islamic may have turned some voters against him and possibly denied him a simple majority in the presidential election.

Mohamed Nasheed emerged as the clear leader in Saturday’s election, receiving 45 percent of the vote, but he fell short of the more than 50 percent needed in the first round to avoid a Sept. 28 runoff against Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed’s rivals have long accused him of working with Jews and Christians and of trying to undermine Islam in the 100 percent Muslim nation. He was ousted from power midway through his first term last year, plunging the Indian Ocean archipelago into political uncertainty.

— Associated Press

Army summoned to quell deadly violence

In an unusual move, the Indian army was called in over the weekend to contain violence pitting Hindus against Muslims, which killed at least 15 people in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

An army contingent of up to 800 was dispatched to the area Saturday night, as armed gangs of Jats, a group practising Hinduism, stormed a mosque and a village with Muslim residents, said R.M. Srivastava, the state’s principal home secretary.

“We had sought assistance of the army last night after we found the violence spreading across to other villages,” Srivastava said.

“In fact, we were able to bring things under control until fresh violence broke out in [a] village Sunday morning.”

The violence erupted Saturday after a meeting attended by Jats in Muzaffarnagar district, 90 miles northeast of New Delhi. Police said that 10 people died, including a journalist and a photographer, and that about 35 were injured.

Five more were killed Sunday morning. A curfew was imposed in three districts.

— Reuters

At least 18 dead in Nigeria
An attack by suspected Islamist sect members on a town guarded by a vigilante group killed at least 13 vigilantes and injured 17 others in northeast Nigeria on Sunday, residents and a government official said. Five attackers also were reported dead. The assault in Benisheik, 45 miles west of Maiduguri, the birthplace of the radical Boko Haram network, occurred days after the military said it killed at least 50 insurgents in an area to the north.

Israel deploys missile defense near Jerusalem: The Israeli military has deployed an Iron Dome missile defense battery in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Israeli military declined to comment, citing operational protocol. Israel is concerned that Syria, or a group allied with it, could launch missiles at Israel if the United States attacks President Bashar al-Assad’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Gunmen kill 10, wound 19 in Guatemala: Men firing from cars poured gunshots into three cantinas in a rural town in Guatemala, killing at least 10 people and injuring 19, local firefighters said Sunday. Sergio Vasquez, a spokesman for the firefighters, said the attacks occurred Saturday night in the town of San Jose Nacahuil, about 10 miles northeast of Guatemala City. He said nobody has been arrested, and officials are not sure of the motive for the attack in the town, which is reachable only by dirt roads that wind through mountainous terrain.

— From news services