4 Afghans dead in U.S. consulate attack

A Taliban attack on a U.S. consulate in western Afghanistan early Friday left at least four Afghans dead but did not result in injury to any Americans or militants’ entry to the compound, officials said.

The attack in the city of Herat underscored concerns about an insurgency that shows no signs of letting up as U.S.-led troops draw down ahead of a full withdrawal next year.

Within hours of the assault, the United States temporarily evacuated many of its consular personnel to the embassy in Kabul, 400 miles to the east.

Herat lies near Afghanistan’s border with Iran and is considered one of the safer cities in the country, with a strong Iranian influence. Friday’s attack highlighted the Taliban’s reach: The militants once concentrated their activities in the east and the south, but in recent years have shown an ability to strike more often in the once-peaceful north and west.

In a phone call, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi took responsibility for the raid.

An interpreter and three members of the Afghan security forces were killed, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said. Seven militants, including two drivers of explosives-laden vehicles, also died, according to Gen. Rahmatullah Safi, Herat province’s chief of police.

— Associated Press

President dissolves his former rebel bloc

The Central African Republic’s new president said Friday he was dissolving the rebel alliance that swept him to power, a group that has since been blamed for a wave of violence.

Seleka rebels seized Bangui, the capital of the impoverished country, and overthrew leader Francois Bozize in March. Since then, they have carried on looting and killing indiscriminately, according to witnesses. French President Francois Hollande last month called for urgent U.N. action to stop the country slipping further into chaos.

Michel Djotodia, himself a former Seleka leader sworn in as president last month, released a decree on state radio dissolving the umbrella group “throughout the national territory.”

— Reuters

Teachers seize historic center of Mexico City: Thousands of striking teachers seized control of the historic heart of Mexico City on Friday, blockading the Zocalo plaza armed with metal pipes and wooden clubs as riot police flooded the area, where Mexico’s government has pledged that Independence Day celebrations will take place as usual Sunday and Monday. The teachers have disrupted the center of the capital at least 15 times over the past two months, decrying a plan to break union control of Mexico’s dysfunctional education system.

Al-Qaeda leader urges small attacks inside U.S.: In an audio speech released Friday, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged small-scale attacks in the United States to “bleed America economically,” adding that he hoped eventually to see a more significant strike, the SITE monitoring service reported. In the speech, posted online a day after the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 strikes, Zawahiri said attacks “by one brother or a few of the brothers” would weaken the U.S. economy by triggering significant spending on security, SITE reported.

Wartime S. Korean abductee escapes North: A South Korean man abducted by North Korea has escaped and returned home after 41 years, government officials and activists said. Jeon Wook-pyo, 68, was one of 25 crewmen on board two boats captured by North Korea in the Yellow Sea in 1972, according to Choi Sung-yung of the Abductees’ Family Union. South Korea estimates that more than 500 South Koreans have been kidnapped and detained by the North since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended.

Dozens killed in fire at Russian mental hospital: A pre-dawn fire swept through a Russian psychiatric hospital, killing 37 people, officials said. Authorities had long warned that the mostly wooden 19th-century building was unsafe. The Emergency Situations Ministry said that the blaze in the facility in the village of Luka, about 280 miles northwest of Moscow, was apparently inadvertently sparked by a patient, but the hospital’s chief doctor said it was arson.

Strauss-Kahn to be Serbia’s economic adviser: Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who faces aggravated pimping charges in France, will serve as an economic adviser to Serbia’s top officials, the Balkan country’s deputy prime minister said. Aleksandar Vucic said Strauss-Kahn will offer advice on restructuring Serbia’s large foreign debt and that the charges against him have not affected his reputation as a financial expert.

— From news services