Italy denies paying off Taliban in Afghanistan

ROME - Italy and NATO on Thursday denied a newspaper report that Italian intelligence secretly paid the Taliban thousands of dollars to keep the peace in an Afghan area under Italian control.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office called the report in the Times of London 'completely groundless.' The Italian defense minister denounced it as 'rubbish' and said he wanted to sue the newspaper.

Iraq calls on Turkey to stop border raids

BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister Thursday asked Turkey to respect its sovereignty and stop cross-border military operations against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq even as his Turkish counterpart emphasized his right to take action against terrorism.

Turkish-Iraqi ties have been warming since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, but raids by Turkish forces pursuing Kurdish rebels who use northern Iraq as a stronghold have been a consistent sore point in relations.

Militants assault compounds in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan - Islamist militants launched coordinated assaults on three police compounds in Pakistan's second largest city Thursday, the latest in a wave of attacks by insurgents bringing the war to the country's heartland ahead of an expected offensive against their Afghan border sanctuary.

The dramatic escalation in violence appears to be an attempt by the Taliban- and al-Qaida-led insurgency to seize the initiative from the army and deliver a warning to the U.S.-backed civilian government: Attack us in South Waziristan and we will fight back in your cities.

Reports: Russia warns US on missile defense

MOSCOW - A top Russian diplomat suggested Thursday that the U.S. should not talk with non-NATO nations about a prospective missile shield, Russian news agencies reported.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov's remarks appeared to reflect alarm over the idea that Western-leaning neighbors such as Ukraine or Georgia, Russia's foe in a war last year, could potentially host U.S. missile defense facilities.

- From wire reports