Taliban releases French aid worker

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban yesterday freed a French aid worker who was kidnapped more than three weeks ago along with another French citizen and three Afghan colleagues.

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the French woman, identified only by her first name, Celine, was handed over to tribal leaders in southern Kandahar province. She then traveled to Kabul.

Also yesterday, Afghan and NATO forces clashed with Taliban fighters in the east and south, killing 21 suspected insurgents, officials said.

NATO-led forces are in the midst of an operation in southern Afghanistan to root out militants in Helmand province's opium-producing heartland. - AP

Israel army shoots four Palestinians

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army shot four Palestinian militants who were trying to plant explosives near the Gaza Strip border fence yesterday, killing three and seriously wounding one, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the military wing of Hamas said the men were members of Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades on a "jihad mission."

It was not clear whether Hamas' military wing acted with the backing of the political leadership. There has been growing dissatisfaction among Hamas' hard-liners with the coalition government formed in March between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' pragmatic Fatah movement. - N.Y. Times News Service

Turkey rejects military's warning

ANKARA, Turkey - The pro-Islamic government yesterday rejected a stern warning from the military over Turkey's disputed presidential election, calling it unacceptable in a democracy.

It was a rare retort against a powerful institution that has long guarded Turkey's secular traditions - and has intervened before to force out an Islamic leader.

The ruling-party candidate failed to win a first-round victory Friday in a parliamentary vote marked by tensions between secularists and the Islamic-rooted government.

The military said it was gravely concerned and indicated it was willing to become more openly involved in the process - a statement some interpreted as an ultimatum to the government to rein in officials who promote Islamic initiatives. - AP

Elsewhere:

An air force helicopter crashed on a busy street in a central Philippine city yesterday, killing at least seven people on the ground and one airman. The crash occurred on the island of Mactan.

A moderate earthquake rattled parts of southeast England yesterday, toppling chimneys from houses and rousing residents from their beds. Several thousand people were left without power in Kent county, and one woman suffered minor head and neck injuries.

U.S.-based Chinese activist Yang Jianli has been released after serving a five-year prison term on charges of spying for rival Taiwan and entering China illegally, his lawyer said yesterday.