Five US troops killed

KABUL: Five American troops were killed within 24 hours in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban militants have conducted an unrelenting campaign of bombings and attacks against US and NATO forces. This has been the deadliest year of the war for international forces and the Obama administration is debating whether to add still more troops to the 21,000-strong influx that began pouring into the country over the summer. The five deaths announced on Friday occurred in three separate attacks the day before in the south, where US and NATO commanders have ramped up their operations to try to reverse Taliban gains. The commander of US and NATO forces, General Stanley McChrystal, told 60 Minutes the strength of the militant group took him by surprise when he arrived this summer. — AP

Germany goes to polls

BERLIN: German voters will decide on Sunday who sits in the next parliament in the nation of 82 million people. No single party has achieved a parliamentary majority since conservative Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did so in 1957, and it appears unlikely this time around as well. There are two candidates for chancellor: incumbent Angela Merkel, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union; and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, of the center-left Social Democrats. Merkel’s preferred center-right alliance with the Free Democrats; the coalition that ran Germany for 16 years under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The current government, a combination of the biggest parties: Merkel’s conservatives with the Social Democrats. Pulled Germany through the economic crisis, but the rivals are short on common policy ground. An alliance of conservatives and Greens, traditional antagonists, that has never been tried at federal level. It might come into play if a center-right alliance has no majority. — AP

Chinese crackdown

BEIJING: Two senior Chinese police officers were arrested on bribery charges and 10 judges dismissed in the country’s southwest, state media reported on Friday, part of a nationwide drive against corruption. The Chongqing legislature approved the arrest of Peng Changjian, deputy chief of the municipality’s public security bureau, and Xu Qiang, a lower level police chief, over alleged bribery and embezzlement. Peng is suspected of taking bribes worth $ 133,000 and offering assistance to illegal business operations, the report said.— AFP

Swine flu toll mounts

GENEVA: Some 3,917 people have died from swine flu infections since the A(H1N1) virus was uncovered in April, the World Health Organisation said on Friday. This marks a jump of 431 deaths compared to a week ago when 3,486 deaths were recorded, said the UN health agency. The Americas region continued to post the highest number of fatal cases, at 2,948. The Asia-Pacific region reported 702 deaths, while Europe recorded at least 154 fatalities. In the Middle East, 72 people have succumbed to the virus while in Africa, 41 deaths have been recorded. — AFP

Italian mayor bans

ROME: The Italian spa resort town of Montegrotto Terme is banning the burqa, saying the head-to-toe Islamic outfit makes it impossible to identify the women who wear it. Its far-right mayor Luca Claudio denied the measure was xenophobic, the domestic Ansa news agency reported on Friday. “To make it difficult or impossible to recognise or identify the person who wears it (a burqa) is unacceptable behaviour in Western democracies where the primary duty of citizens is to carry an identity document,” he said. Last month, the right-wing mayor of Varallo Sesia in the Piedmont region of northern Italy banned the “burkini” and threatened violators with a 500 euro fine. — AFP