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AROUND THE WORLD

Recovery efforts begin in charred Alpine tunnel

AIROLO, Switzerland (AP) -- An icy wind blasted through twisted, charred metal in Europe's longest Alpine highway tunnel Friday as salvage workers penetrated the heart of the disaster that killed at least 11 people.

Officials have expected the toll to rise, but they were encouraged that the occupants of the first vehicles they reached Friday had apparently been able to escape.

"We think the death toll may not go much higher," a police officer said. With the fire that began with a head-on truck crash Wednesday finally extinguished, work crews installed braces to hold up the weakened roof of the Gotthard Tunnel at the heart of the inferno, where temperatures soared as high as 2,200 degrees.

Some 120 people on the highway Wednesday have been reported missing, but authorities said the high number reflected duplication, with worried relatives and friends phoning separate hot lines in different Swiss states.

A prolonged closure of the 10.6-mile-long Gotthard Tunnel would deprive Europe of a crucial transportation artery.

Bomb squads begin defusing explosives at Thai arsenal

PAK CHONG, Thailand (AP) -- Thai bomb disposal experts on Friday began collecting and defusing bombs and rockets that rained over a 3-mile area during massive explosions at an army arsenal.

Thirteen people were confirmed dead and seven were still missing after Thursday's explosions, which forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people from the area, officials said. Eighty-five others were injured, a hospital official said.

Army Commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont said the blasts were caused when volatile outdated artillery shells and other munitions ignited as they were being transported from a warehouse to another area for disposal.

Eleven soldiers and security guards in the warehouse were confirmed dead and seven others were missing Friday, an official at the Narenthorn Emergency Center said. Two civilians died outside the compound -- one from the explosions and the other from a heart attack, officials said.

Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon said the blasts were an accident.

U.S. says its ties to China won't affect Taiwan support

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- The United States has given Taiwan great comfort by pledging that its support for the island will not be withdrawn in exchange for China's backing in the war on terrorism, the Taiwanese president said Friday.

Many Taiwanese fear that with U.S.-China ties improving since the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington might reward Beijing's anti-terrorist efforts by no longer supporting Taiwan -- a self-ruling island that China considers part of its territory.

In an interview, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian endorsed cooperation between the United States and China against terrorism, calling it "necessary" and saying Taiwan has "no objections."

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