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Karzai renews request for talks with militants

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai, facing criticism for referring to the Taliban as "brothers" despite an onslaught of insurgent attacks on his capital two days earlier, renewed his request Tuesday for militant groups to come to the bargaining table.

He also said Afghan civilians and security forces had borne the brunt of strikes that were primarily aimed at foreigners, and he questioned why insurgents would harm fellow Afghans. "People were safe and sound in Washington; life was normal in London -- the same everywhere," he said. "But people in Kabul, Logar, Jalalabad and Paktia were affected and terrorized," Karzai added, referring to the attacks that left 11 members of the Afghan security forces, four civilians and about three dozen insurgents dead.

Karzai said he looked forward to the 2014 departure of Western troops "so that we will no longer be a burden on them." But he said the foreign community should continue to provide substantial financial support.

"We want at least 4 to 5 billion dollars a year," Karzai said. "That is enough for us."

-- Los Angeles Times



U.S. victims' remains from shipwreck ID'd

ROME (AP) -- The remains of a Minnesota couple who died when a cruise ship capsized in Italy were publicly identified Tuesday, several weeks after the bodies were found in the wreck of the Costa Concordia and two months after their family held a memorial service.

Barbara and Gerald Heil, of White Bear Lake, Minn., were the only American fatalities in the Jan. 13 accident. Thirty-two people died when the luxury liner struck a reef and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

The Heil family thanked searchers for finding the couple, known for their strong Catholic faith. "We will now be able to move forward and bring them home to rest," the statement said. The family also thanked friends and others for encouraging them through the ordeal, and urged people to remember the families of two people who are still missing.

"We know our parents are together and are happy," the statement concluded.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome, citing privacy concerns, declined to discuss plans for returning the Heils' remains to the United States.



Italian tourist heads home after captivity

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) -- An Italian tourist abducted in Algeria by al-Qaida's North African branch headed home Tuesday night after spending more than a year in captivity.

Maria Sandra Mariani boarded a plane in this West African nation that had been sent by the Italian government, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

"I thank [Burkinabe] President Blaise Compaore. He contributed to my freedom, and they got me out of hell," she said at the main military base in Ouagadougou before taking off.

Mariani was accompanied by officials from Burkina Faso who helped free her, but nothing was said about the conditions of her release.

Mariani was abducted in February 2011 in Algeria's southern desert while on a visit organized by a travel agency.