Jerusalem

Bush warns Iran not to meddle with U.S. ships in Gulf

President Bush warned Iran of “serious consequences” if it meddles again with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, opening a Mideast peacemaking mission yesterday on an ominous note. He told Israel to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts and demanded that the Palestinians halt rocket attacks from areas controlled by Hamas Islamic militants.

Bush, on his first visit as president to Israel, acknowledged widespread doubts about whether he can break through decades of distrust to achieve his goal of a major peace agreement by the end of his presidency in January, 2009.

“I’m under no illusions,” Bush said. “It’s going to be hard work.”

New York

Bloomberg starts nationwide effort to gauge support

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has quietly been polling and conducting a highly sophisticated voter analysis in all 50 states as he decides whether to launch an independent presidential bid, associates said yesterday.

The scope of the research, details of which were revealed to The Associated Press, demonstrates how seriously Bloomberg is considering running for president despite his almost-daily denials that he isn’t entering the race.

“They want a hard-headed sense of their chances,” said Doug Schoen, who spearheaded Bloomberg’s voter database efforts, known as microtargeting, for his two mayoral campaigns.

Baghdad
Nine U.S. soldiers killed in offensive north of Baghdad

Nine American soldiers were killed in the first two days of a new offensive to root out al-Qaida in Iraq fighters holed up in districts north of the capital, the U.S. military reported yesterday.

The losses came as many militants fled U.S. and Iraqi forces massing in Diyala, a province of palm and citrus groves that has defied the trend toward lower violence. The campaign’s scope is nationwide but is mainly focused on gaining control of Diyala and its most important city, Baqouba, which al-Qaida has declared the capital of its self-styled Islamic caliphate.

Six soldiers were killed and four were wounded yesterday in a booby-trapped house in Diyala, the U.S. command said. It also announced that three U.S. soldiers were killed and two wounded in an attack Tuesday in Salahuddin province, north of Diyala.

Beijing
No more plastic grocery bags for Chinese shoppers

Declaring war on the “white pollution” choking its cities, farms and waterways, China is banning free plastic shopping bags and calling for a return to the cloth bags of old – steps largely welcomed by merchants and shoppers yesterday.

The measure eliminates the flimsiest bags and forces stores to charge for others, making China the latest nation to target plastic bags in a bid to cut waste and conserve resources.

Beijing residents appeared to take the ban in stride, reflecting rising environmental consciousness and concern over skyrocketing oil prices.

“If we can reduce waste and save resources, then it’s good both for us and the whole world,” said college student Xu Lixian, who was buying tangerines out of cardboard boxes at a sidewalk stall.

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