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WORLD IN BRIEF: Rivals of Iraqi PM forced to halt campaign

BAGHDAD -- A political coalition led by one of the Iraqi prime minister's fiercest critics temporarily halted its campaign Saturday for next month's parliamentary elections after a number of its candidates were barred from running.

The country's already tense political atmosphere received another jolt late Saturday when blasts struck the offices of five parties -- four of them Sunni -- in Baghdad, wounding eleven people.

The back-and-forth political wrangling over the ban on more than 450 candidates for the March 7 vote has threatened to undermine Iraq's political stability, worrying U.S. officials that it could throw the credibility of the elections into question and undo security gains.

Apparent bomb kills 8 in India

NEW DELHI -- An apparent bomb tore through a crowded bakery popular with foreigners on Saturday in western India, killing at least eight people and wounding 42 near a famed meditation center. If confirmed, it would be the country's first terror attack since the Mumbai rampage in 2008.

The blast in the city of Pune, 125 miles southeast of Mumbai, threatened to damage new efforts to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, with Hindu nationalist leaders already placing the blame for the explosion at India's Muslim neighbor.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said the 7:30 p.m. explosion at the German Bakery, near the Osho Ashram, a renowned meditation center, was likely caused by a bomb and it killed at least eight people.

Bombs slow US advance in Afghan town

MARJAH, Afghanistan -- Bombs and booby traps slowed the advance of thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers moving Saturday through the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah -- NATO's most ambitious effort yet to break the militants' grip over their southern heartland.

NATO said it hoped to secure the area in days, set up a local government and rush in development aid in a first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the eight-year war. The offensive is the largest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban appeared to have scattered in the face of overwhelming force, possibly waiting to regroup and stage attacks later to foil the alliance's plan to stabilize the area and expand Afghan government control in the volatile south.