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Blast hits nuclear plant but officials say no leak

MOSCOW -- An explosion ripped through a smelter at a Russian nuclear power plant outside the northern city of St. Petersburg, but radiation levels were normal, Russia's nuclear agency said today. Rosenergoatom said three people were badly burned in the blast yesterday at the Leningrad nuclear power plant. The smelter was located in the second unit, which had been shut down for major repairs in July, the agency said. A unit generally contains a reactor. ''There were no violations of safety levels and operating conditions of the energy units of the Leningrad nuclear plant," Rosenergoatom said in a statement. (AP)

IRAQ

Qaeda leader said freed by mistake

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi security forces caught terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi but released him because they didn't realize who he was, the deputy interior minister said yesterday, according to CNN. The deputy interior minister, Hussein Kamal, said the Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq was in custody sometime last year, but he wouldn't provide further details, CNN reported. The report could not be confirmed, but a US official said in Washington that American intelligence believed it was plausible. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy. There have been several reports of missed opportunities to capture al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Iraq along with the kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners, has a $25 million bounty on his head. (AP)

AFGHANISTAN

US soldier is killed, 2d wounded in clash

KABUL -- A US soldier was killed and another wounded in a firefight with insurgents yesterday in southern Afghanistan, the military said. Afghan and US troops were on a patrol when they came under small arms fire northeast of Kandahar, the military said in a statement. It said US and Afghan soldiers returned fire, and aircraft and helicopters attacked insurgent positions. A US soldier and one Afghan National Army soldier were also wounded in the firefight, but were in stable condition at a nearby US medical facility. One insurgent was killed, it said. (AP)

CHINA

33 die as fire sweeps through a hospital

BEIJING -- A fire swept through a hospital in northeastern China yesterday, killing at least 33 people, including patients, state media said. Witnesses were quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying that some people leapt from the burning hospital buildings in Jilin province. The fire started at about 5 p.m. yesterday at the largest hospital in Liaoyuan city, about 75 miles southwest of Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, witnesses said. Earlier yesterday, China's Ministry of Public Security said there were 222,000 accidental fires in China, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths, from January to November, Xinhua said. (AP)

AUSTRALIA

Police get new powers to crack down on riots

SYDNEY -- Lawmakers in New South Wales state passed emergency laws yesterday giving police new powers to crack down on race rioters after days of unrest plagued Sydney's southern beach suburbs. In one of Australia's worst outbreaks of racial violence, a mob of 5,000 white youths, many of them drunk, descended on Cronulla Beach on Sunday, fought with police, and attacked people they believed were Arab. The disturbances continued for three nights, escalating into retaliatory attacks and vandalism on churches, prompting the New South Wales parliament to halt its summer recess for an emergency session yesterday. ''The community believes that police should have the capacity -- to use colloquial language -- to move people on who are a potential nuisance," Prime Minister John Howard said. (AP)

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