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Saturday, July 01

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.

2 British soldiers die in Afghanistan

LONDON (CNN) -- Two British soldiers were killed in Sangin, Afghanistan Saturday when their base was hit with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, a Ministry of Defense statement said Sunday.

The soldiers were members of the 3 PARA Battle Group and stationed in northern Helmand province.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is currently involved in two major counter-insurgency operations -- Operation Mountain Lion in the east and Operation Mountain Thrust in the north -- in an effort to rout out Taliban insurgents in those regions.

With the deaths, a dozen British forces have died in Afghanistan. (posted 2:50 a.m.)

Car bomb wounds 13 in central Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded near a police station in a central Baghdad neighborhood Sunday, wounding at least 13 people, Baghdad Emergency Police said.

The attack took place at 8 a.m. (12 a.m. EDT) in the capital's Karrada section.

On Saturday, car bomb exploded in a busy Sadr City marketplace, killing 62 people and wounding 114 others. (posted 1:45 a.m.)

Mexicans voting for new president Sunday

MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Mexicans head to the polls Sunday for a presidential election that political observers have pegged as a tight race to find a successor for leader Vicente Fox, who ended the PRI's 71-year grip on political rule in 2000.

The polls open at 9 a.m. ET and close 12 hours later. There are about 71 million registered voters.

Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN), is nearing the end of his six-year term. He is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.

The three major candidates are Felipe Calderon from the PAN party, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist former Mexico City mayor and Roberto Madrazo from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century. (Posted 11:15 p.m.)

Israelis fire on Palestinian PM's office in Gaza City

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- In retaliation for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired a missile early Sunday at the building housing the offices of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in Gaza City, leaving the structure ablaze.

A bystander suffered minor injuries, hospital officials said, but no other casualties were reported.

Israel Defense Forces confirmed the attack, which was followed by at least two more airstrikes -- one against a suspected Hamas training ground at the Jabaliya refugee camp, and a second on the headquarters of the Hamas militia, according to CNN Correspondent John Vause. Palestinian sources told CNN there was a death in the militia building attack.

The airstrikes came one week after Palestinian militants abducted 19-year-old Israeli Cpl. Galid Shalit during a raid in Israel that killed two other soldiers. Israelis believe Shalit may be held in southern Gaza, and there are ongoing negotiations to free him. (Posted 8:55 p.m.)

More violence afoot as talks press on for Israeli soldier's release

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel Defense Forces reported clashes Saturday in Gaza between Palestinian gunmen and soldiers operating east of Khan Yunis, the suspected location of a kidnapped Israeli soldier.

The IDF said the gunmen attacked the Israeli soldiers with small arms fire, launched an anti-tank missile at an engineering vehicle and planted explosive devices in the area.

The Israelis returned fire, but Palestinian security sources said no casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts continued in an effort to secure the release of Israeli Cpl. Galid Shalit, who was kidnapped last Sunday during a Palestinian raid into Israel.

The U.N. envoy to the Middle East, Alvero de Soto, was expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza on Sunday. (Posted 6:30 p.m.)

Commuter trains collide in Pennsylvania

ABINGTON, Pa. (CNN) -- At least 30 commuters were injured Saturday afternoon when two trains heading in opposite directions collided on one track in Abington, just north of Philadelphia, officials said.

No fatalities were reported. Emergency officials crowded around the derailed passenger train after the accident to assess the damage and assist passengers. Officials are investigating the crash. (Posted 6 p.m.)

Discovery launch scrubbed

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (CNN) -- Space shuttle Discovery's launch was canceled Saturday because of nearby thunderstorms and the possibility of lightning in the vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center launch pad.

NASA may try again Sunday at 3:26 p.m. ET, said CNN Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien. The space agency can keep trying until July 19.

Discovery is scheduled for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. The launch would have been only the second shuttle flight since Columbia disintegrated over Texas in 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Discovery was to have launched shortly before 4 p.m. (Posted 4:45 p.m.)

New Jersey halts government functions after legislative stalemate

TRENTON, N.J. (CNN) -- With the stroke of the governor's pen, 45,000 New Jersey state employees became furloughed and "non essential" state resources were halted after compromises on a 2007 budget could not be reached before Saturday's legislative deadline.

However, services such as state police, prisons, mental hospitals and child welfare were to keep operating, said Gov. Jon S. Corzine at a Saturday news briefing.

"It gives me no joy, no satisfaction, no sense of empowerment to do what I'm forced to do here," he asserted after signing an executive order shutting down areas of the government Saturday morning. "We've taken every reasonable measure that this day would not come but here we are." * (Posted 3:09 p.m.)

Audio message posted on Islamist Web site, purportedly from bin Laden

(CNN) -- An audio message purportedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden recognized a new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq in a message that addressed two key Muslim battlegrounds -- Iraq and Somalia.

And for the first time, bin Laden lashed out against Shiites, a significant development because al Qaeda central leadership has been reluctant to criticize the Shiites.

The message can't be initially verified, but a message from bin Laden -- who also delivered a message earlier this week -- was expected.

The speaker named Abu Hamza al-Mujaher as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and wished him good luck. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7. (Posted 3:03 p.m.)

Two U.S. troop deaths reports, both non-combat related

(CNN) -- The U.S. military announced two military deaths on Saturday, both non-combat related. U.S. Central Command Air Forces Forward Public Affairs said an airman assigned to the 886th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron in Camp Bucca, Iraq, died.

The Multi-National Corp, Iraq said a servicemember assigned to the 43rd Military Police Brigade died.

Their names were being withheld pending notification of next of kin and both incidents were being investigated. These bring the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war to 2,536. (Posted 1:48 p.m.)

Gunmen abduct Sunni politician in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament was kidnapped Saturday morning in northeastern Baghdad, an official with the Iraqi Islamic Party and police told CNN.

Tayseer Mashhadani was traveling with eight bodyguards from Diyala province to the capital when gunmen in two vehicles hijacked her convoy at a Sha'ab neighborhood intersection, according to Iraqi Emergency Police. Sha'ab is a mixed, middle-class neighborhood. Mashhadani is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the minority Sunni bloc of parliament known as the Iraqi Accord Front, and is a married with two children.

She is an engineer by profession and is on the reconstruction committee in parliament.

"It is difficult to determine at this point who is behind this, but we have appealed to the kidnappers and made a humanitarian plea they set her free, because she is a woman and an Iraqi serving the Iraqi people," said Ala'a Makki, a fellow member of the Iraqi Accordance Front. The kidnapping was carried out about 1,600 feet from a police checkpoint.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the kidnapping, calling it "repugnant to all who believe in the right of Iraqis to participate in their country's democracy." "Acts such as the abduction of Ms. Mashhadani have no justification. They aim simply to terrify innocent Iraqis and provoke further conflict." (Posted 1:09 p.m.)

Car bomb kills 62 in Baghdad's Shiite enclave; Sunni parliamentarian kidnapped

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded in a busy northeastern Baghdad marketplace Saturday morning, killing 62 people and wounding 114 others.

The attack took place around 10 a.m. in the Sadr City section of the capital, a densely populated Shiite enclave, and is believed to have targeted a police patrol.

A claim of responsibility was posted on an Islamist Web site by a group that calls itself The Supporters of the Sunni People." The claim -- whose authenticity could not be verified -- said it was in retaliation for the killing of Sunnis by Shiites. (Posted 1:07 p.m.)

Discovery astronauts head to shuttle

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (CNN) -- The seven Discovery astronauts are heading to the space shuttle in the final stages of preparation before a scheduled liftoff at 3:49 p.m. ET.

Commander Steve Lindsey will lead the crew as they get strapped in to the orbiter at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mission managers have been investigating a problem with a thermostat in one of Discovery's thrusters Saturday morning, which was showing a reading in the 80s when it should have been in the 60s.

The thermostat was monitoring one of the shuttle's 38 primary thrusters used to manuever the orbiter once in space, including docking it to the international space station.

"There's ongoing discussion about the thruster issue. Engineers are looking at a workaround," NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.

"There are good indications there is a workaround possible but that determination has not yet been made." It is not yet known whether the problem will affect the launch plans.

The weather could also have an impact, though forecasters raised the odds of clear skies allowing take-off to 60 percent from 40 percent on Saturday morning. Fueling began shortly before 6 a.m. and was completed as scheduled. (Posted 12:17 p.m.)

U.S. soldier's death in Afghanistan probed as 'possible friendly fire incident'

(CNN) -- The Pentagon is probing the circumstances of a U.S. soldier's death in Afghanistan "as a possible friendly fire incident."

Pfc. Justin R. Davis, 19, of Gaithersburg, Md., was killed in Korengal Outpost, near Kunar province on Tuesday.

A Pentagon statement said "he came in contact with indirect fire while on patrol during combat operations."

Davis had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) of Fort Drum, N.Y. (Posted 11:25 a.m.)

Bush: Freeing Israeli soldier is key to ending crisis in Gaza

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said on Saturday that the key to ending the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza is the freeing of the Israeli soldier who was abducted on Sunday.

Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants in a brazen raid in southern Israel. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack. The attack has resulted in a regional crisis. Diplomatic efforts have been afoot to free the soldier. Israel launched operations in Gaza and the West Bank, including the arrests of several members of the Palestinian government.

Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Gaza and the Middle East in a telephone call on Saturday that was initiated by Erdogan.

A White House spokesperson said Bush told Erdogan that the initial goal and the key to ending the crisis is the freeing of Shalit. They agreed that the United States and Turkey -- which has played a role mediating disputes in the region -- would remain in close contact on the matter.

Shalit was abducted by members of the militant wing of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and a previously unknown group, the Army of Islam, and Israeli intelligence officials continue to believe that Shalit is being held in southern Gaza, probably in the Khan Yunis area. (Posted 10:37 a.m.)

Cheney gets clean bill of health in physical

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney was given a clean bill of health at his annual routine physical at George Washington Hospital.

Vice presidential spokeswoman Jennifer Mayfield said Cheney underwent the physical on Saturday morning at his doctor's office in the hospital.

The tests included a physical exam, an electrocardiogram, an ICD check and follow-up imaging of his repaired popliteal aneurysms.

His cardiac status remains stable. His ICD is functioning properly and has not treated any arrhythmia. A treadmill test is scheduled for the fall. The stent graph used to treat the popliteal artery aneurysms are wide open.

The vice president has returned to the Naval Observatory to resume his normal schedule. (Posted 10:36 a.m.)

Last batch of prisoners in Iraq freed under recent reconciliation initiative

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Authorities in Iraq freed about 470 detainees from Iraqi jails, the last in a series of prisoner releases that coincide with the Iraq government's new national reconciliation program, U.S. officials said.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said this completes the release of nearly 3,000 detainees from coalition custody over the past several weeks" and said there could be more releases as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki's reconcilation plan moves forward. (Posted 9:08 a.m.)

Gonzales: Court's Gitmo ruling 'hampered our ability to move forward' with what administration says is a key anti-terror tool

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The U.S. attorney general said the Supreme Court decision that limited the Bush administration's power to conduct military tribunals for suspected terrorists imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay prison has "hampered our ability to move forward with a tool which we had hoped would be available to the president of the United States in dealing with terrorists."

"We are currently evaluating the writings of the Supreme Court," said Alberto Gonzales, interviewed by CNN's Kevin Flower in Cairo," and "we are going to be working closely with Congress to look at legislation.

Gonzales was on a trip to Israel and Egypt, where he met with his counterparts in those countries about cooperation over law enforcement issues. He also weighed in on the leak how to respond to news reports that are perceived as hurting national security. He was questioned about the stunning 5-3 court ruling, which effectively means officials will either have to come up with new procedures to prosecute at least 10 "enemy combatants" awaiting trial, or release them from military custody.

He said the administration is "hopeful that we will have the ability to try people through military commissions" as a tool to deal with terror suspects. "In order to take advantage of that tool, the Supreme Court has said we need to look at our procedures so we will be doing that with the U.S. Congress and seeing whether or not we can develop a system that meets the requirements set forth by the Supreme Court." (Posted 8:35 a.m.)

Rocket attack wounds 10 at military airfield

(CNN) -- A rocket attack on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan Friday wounded 10 people, a coalition military spokesman said.

"Taliban extremists employ rockets in a manner that makes them highly erratic and inaccurate," said Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick with Combined Joint Task Force - 76.

"Unfortunately, this time a rocket caused damage and injury. The injured are receiving the best medical care available."

Of the wounded, six are in stable condition, one is in serious condition and three were treated and released, the statement said.

An investigation has been launched to find those who staged the attack. (6:30 a.m.)

Israel rejects demand by Palestinian militant groups

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Repeating its early stance, the Israeli government quickly rejected a demand by three Palestinian militant groups holding an Israeli soldier hostage that it release 1,000 Arab prisoners from Israeli jails, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Responding to a statement faxed to media outlets early Saturday, Mark Regev said Cpl. Gilad Shalit must be set free, without conditions.

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has reiterated that there will be no deals, that either Shalit will be released or we will act to bring about his release," Regev said.

The statement did not make clear if the demand was in return for the release of Shalit, who was kidnapped Sunday in a daring Palestinian raid into southern Israel. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack. (posted 3 a.m.)

1 dead after film crew helicopter crash

(CNN) -- A helicopter carrying three members of an independent movie crew was reduced to strips of metal Friday afternoon when it crashed into an Iowa field, killing one person and injuring two, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The crew working on the film, "The Final Season," in Cedar Rapids was one day shy of completing filming. Production secretary Emma Barnum said she doesn't know if they'll be able to finish the movie. She was unable to immediately confirm the identity of the passengers but said they were involved with the film.

"The Final Season" is a true story of a high school baseball team, and it used local talent from Iowa and other parts of the United States. (Posted 11:06 p.m.)

Judge defers ruling on Libby request for trial delay

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge has decided against a quick decision on a request to delay the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the indicted former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby, who is charged with lying to investigators and a grand jury, asked this week for a delay of more than a month in his trial, which is set to start in January. Libby said one of his attorneys faces a tight schedule because of an unrelated trial in California.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton wrote in an order filed Friday that he will hold off setting Libby's trial date until after an Aug. 31 pretrial hearing in the West Coast case.

Libby faces a five-count indictment in the investigation into how reporters found out the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. (Posted 10:48 p.m.)

Passengers dispute captain's claim in boating accident

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Witnesses and passengers disagree with the captain of a tour boat about what caused the vessel to capsize last fall, killing 20 elderly passengers, says an initial report issued Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB will release its formal findings later this summer on the Oct. 2 capsizing of the Ethan Allen on New York's Lake George.

Most of the interviewed survivors told the NTSB they saw no wave or any large ship that could have created a wake on the lake that afternoon -- directly conflicting the report of boat captain Richard Paris.

The Ethan Allen was carrying 47 passengers on a foliage tour along the western shore of Lake George in New York's Adirondack Mountains. The tour operator, Shoreline Cruises, was shut down pending results of the probe. (Posted 10:40 p.m.)

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