2 deaths reported from bird flu strain
BEIJING - Two Shanghai men have died from a lesser-known type of bird flu in the first known human deaths from the strain, and Chinese authorities said Sunday that it wasn't clear how they were infected, but that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
A third person, a woman in the nearby province of Anhui, also contracted the H7N9 strain of bird flu and was in critical condition, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission said in a report on its website.
There was no sign that any of the three, who were infected over the past two months, had contracted the disease from each other, and no sign of infection in the 88 people who had closest contact with them, the medical agency said.
H7N9 bird flu is considered a low pathogenic strain that cannot easily be contracted by humans. The overwhelming majority of human deaths from bird flu have been caused by the more virulent H5N1, which decimated poultry stocks across Asia in 2003.
Karzai, on visit, talks possible Taliban office
DOHA - Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the emir of Qatar in Doha Sunday to discuss the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state.
The move could foster peace negotiations with the Islamic fundamentalist movement in a bid to stem violence as foreign combat forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The Qatar News Agency said Karzai met with the emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and other senior government officials on Sunday. He also held talks with Qatar's ambassador to Pakistan during a tour of an Islamic art museum in Doha.
The report didn't give details, but Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai has said the talks would include the peace process and the opening of a Taliban office.
Islamic militants attack Timbuktu
BAMAKO - Timbuktu has been hit by a prolonged battle between Islamic extremists and the Malian and French armies, residents and a Malian military spokesman said Sunday.
Fighters linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, attacked the city in northern Mali late Saturday night and continued fighting Sunday, said Capt. Samba Coulibaly, spokesman for the Malian military in Timbuktu.
The attack started Saturday at about 10 p.m. local time when a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian military checkpoint at the western entrance to Timbuktu, he said.
The French military joined the Malian army Sunday to fight the Islamic radicals, said Timbuktu residents.
Shelling of Aleppo area sends residents fleeing
BEIRUT - Heavy shelling in a neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo sent civilians fleeing for their lives on Sunday, and the state news agency accused rebels trying to topple the government of setting fire to three oil wells.
Syria's civil war has battered the country's infrastructure and torn its social fabric.
After more than two years of conflict, neither President Bashar Assad's regime nor the rebels fighting for his ouster appear close to victory.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said civilians were vacating the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of Aleppo under heavy shelling by government forces.
Rebels took over parts of the neighborhood late last week and were still clashing with Assad's troops, who are trying to push them out.
In the east, the state news agency, SANA, said rebels had set fire to three oil wells in the province of Deir al-Zour, causing a daily loss of 4,670 barrels of oil and 52 cubic meters of natural gas. It accused "terrorists," the government's term for rebels, of setting the fires after fighting among themselves about how to divide the oil.
Entire flea circus wiped out by cold
BERLIN - An entire troupe of performing fleas has fallen victim to the freezing temperatures currently gripping Germany.
Flea circus director Robert Birk said he was shocked to find all of his 300 fleas dead inside their transport box Wednesday morning.
The circus immediately scrambled to find and train a new batch so it could fulfill its engagements at an open-air fair in the western town of Mechernich-Kommern.
Michael Faber, who organizes the fair, told The Associated Press that an insect expert at a nearby university was able to provide 50 fleas in time for the first show Sunday.
Faber says he hopes they'll "get through this without any more fatalities."
Birk said it was the first time his circus had lost all of its fleas to the cold in one go.
The Associated Press