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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed a new alliance of moderate Shiite and Kurdish political leaders that emerged from crisis meetings in Bagh-dad to try to save his wobbly government. The participants signed an agreement that they said ensures a majority in parliament to vote on legislation demanded by the US. Maliki said he'd keep the door open to the Sunni Accordance Front and especially Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's Islamic Party to return to the government "at any time." But a senior Islamic Party leader said, "We are not ready to join this alliance at the current time."

From Asia to Europe, stock markets were reporting new losses Thursday, due to ongoing worries about subprime mortgages in the US and their potential to harm the global economy.Japan's Nikkei index fell below 16000 for the first time in nine months. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 3.3 percent, and the main index in South Korea dropped 6.9 percent. At midday, stock exchanges in London, Paris, and Frankfurt all were off by 2.7 percent or more. The European Union said it would investigate why major credit-rating agencies didn't react faster to early signs of mortgage defaults in the US.

A $30 billion deal for new defense aid was signed by US and Israeli officials Thursday, with the former calling it "the right level" because of the danger to the Jewish state posed by Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that threat "is immediate and it's also long-term." The grant, which is intended to cover the next decade, still must be approved by Congress.

Eight Taliban prisoners held by Afghanistan's government must be freed before the radical Islamist movement will release any more of the Korean hostages it holds, a spokesman said Thursday. There was no immediate word on a deadline for such a trade as Taliban and South Korean negotiators opened a new round of face-to-face talks on the fate of the 19 remaining hostages Thursday. Two Koreans were freed earlier this week; two others have been executed.


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