British armored vehicles crash through Basra jail

BASRA, Iraq - British armored vehicles broke down the walls of the central jail in this southern city Monday and freed two British soldiers, allegedly undercover commandos arrested for shooting two Iraqi policemen, witnesses said. But London said the two men were released as a result of negotiations.

The different versions of events came on a chaotic day that raised questions about how much sovereignty Iraqi authorities really were granted when the U.S.-led Coalition Provision Authority handed over power to an interim Iraqi government in the summer of 2004.

The arrests of the two British soldiers Monday appeared to have been the first real and public test of how far that sovereignty extends. There have been no known incidents of Iraqi authorities arresting U.S. soldiers operating in the Iraqi heartland.

Afghan elections hailed as a success, but threats loom

KABUL, Afghanistan - From women in burqas in former Taliban strongholds to impoverished desert nomads, Afghans embraced the chance to vote in the final formal step toward democracy. But the country still faces myriad threats, from a reinvigorated insurgency to rampant drug production and power-hungry warlords.

Turnout for Sunday's legislative elections was lower than many hoped, taking a little of the luster off the historic day. Still, the rebels' failure to make good on threats to subvert the vote was a major boost to efforts to bring peace nearly four years after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power.

Al-Qaida claims responsibility for London bombings

CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahri said his terror network carried out the July 7 London bombings in a statement broadcast Monday, marking the group's first direct claim of responsibility for the attacks that killed 52 people.

''The blessed London attack was one which al-Qaida was honored to launch against the British Crusader's arrogance and against the American Crusader aggression on the Islamic nation for 100 years,'' al-Zawahri said in the tape aired on Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.

North Korea pledges to drop nuclear programs

BEIJING - North Korea agreed Monday to dismantle nuclear weapons and its atomic facilities in exchange for energy aid, economic cooperation and security assurances, a breakthrough that marked a first step toward disarmament after two years of six-nation talks.

The chief U.S. envoy praised the development as a ''win-win situation'' and ''good agreement for all of us.'' But he promptly urged Pyongyang, which also agreed to international inspections, to make good on its promises by ending operations at its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

Merkel, Schroeder both claim German chancellor's office

BERLIN - Germany's opposition leader Angela Merkel and the chairman of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party made their first contacts with potential coalition partners Monday in a scramble for power after the country's inconclusive election.

Voters denied both Schroeder and Merkel a majority, but each is demanding the chancellor's office. Their struggle could last weeks, even as business leaders and economists warn decisive action is needed to invigorate the sluggish economy.

Bush invites China to participate in G-7 financial talks

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, facing growing unhappiness in Congress over America's soaring trade deficit with China, will get a chance this week to present its concerns to top Chinese economic officials.

Both Finance Minister Jin Renqing and Zhou Xiachuan, the head of China's central bank, have been invited to attend a luncheon meeting on Friday where Treasury Secretary John Snow and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will serve as hosts.

The discussions will be part of a gathering that the world's seven richest industrial countries will be holding to get the views of China and four other major developing countries - Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Schools packed as thousands take up free education offer

BUJUMBURA, Burundi - Classrooms and chairs were scarce at crowded Burundian primary schools as 500,000 children - nearly double last year's enrollment - showed up for the first day of classes Monday following the elimination of fees.

President Pierre Nkurunziza announced at his inauguration Aug. 19 that he would scrap primary school fees of $4.50 per student, setting off a scramble to accommodate a surge in new applicants.

Nkurunziza said he was eliminating fees so that every student could get at least a primary education.

- From wire reports