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Defense officials in Russia would not confirm reports that its observer posts in Georgia are being closed. Such a move would be the first sign that Russia is following through on its promised withdrawal. Georgian sources said the posts are near the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Kremlin did say, however, that "notes" had been exchanged on opening diplomatic relations with both regions "at the embassy level" and that Russian troop strength would be increased from 3,500 to 7,600 between the two.

Speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in poor health intensified as reports said he failed to attend Tuesday's ceremonies marking 60 years of communist rule. Kim, a fixture at previous anniversary celebrations, hasn't been seen in public since mid-August. The centerpiece of Tuesday's festivities was expected to be a massive military parade. Instead, it consisted largely of civilian militia units, the reports said.

In formal ceremonies Tuesday, Asif Ali Zardari was sworn in as Pakistan's new president, pledging to "stand with our neighbors ... and tell the world that we are bigger than [our] problems." Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, later appeared at a news conference with President Hamid Karzai (l.) of Afghanistan, who frequently has accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists.


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