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Afghan opposition claims advances on Taliban

A Northern Alliance tank fires on Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Northern Alliance militia in Afghanistan has reported what it says are advances in its long-running fight against Taliban forces.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said his forces took the towns of Zari and Keshendeh, both in Balkh province in the north, and killed 60 Taliban fighters. (Full story)

The unconfirmed report came as India and Pakistan welcomed the U.S. easing of economic sanctions imposed after their nuclear weapons testing in 1998.

"This is a positive move and I think we appreciate it very much," Pakistan's Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz told CNN.

India's foreign ministry was more restrained, calling it a "welcome development."

India and Pakistan have backed a U.S. demand that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden or face a massive military attack. (Full story)

In the United States, President George W. Bush was to hold a ceremony at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat to return the American flag to full staff for the first time since hijacked U.S. airliners attacked New York and Washington -- toppling the World Trade Center and leaving about 6,500 people dead or missing and presumed. Bush has named bin Laden as the "prime suspect" in the attacks.

New York planned to honor on Sunday afternoon the missing and presumed dead at a multi-faith service at Yankee Stadium.

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Latest developments

• Members of militant Islamic groups Sunday entered hotels in the Indonesian city of Solo warning "Americans and their allies" to leave if the United States launches an attack on Afghanistan. Radical Muslims in the central Java city visited six international hotels and demanded to see guest lists in order to identify American and European guests. (Full story)

• The Bush administration does not believe reports that bin Laden is missing, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."

• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday the target of any U.S. retaliation for the terrorist attacks would be bin Laden, not the Afghan people. "We are interested in going after Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network, murderers of over 6,000 people in this incident, murderers in earlier incidents," he said.

• British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says in a letter to the people of Iran that "the war on terrorism is not remotely a war against Islam." Straw, who wrote the letter ahead of his visit to Iran on Monday, would be the highest-ranking British official to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. (Full story)

• Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with five Central Asian leaders Sunday. According to Deputy Residential Chief of Staff Sergei Prikhodko, Putin discussed coordination of actions in dealing with the current situation in the region. The nations were Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, which are on the Afghan border, and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which are close to Afghanistan.

• Federal authorities have banned U.S. airlines and U.S.-licensed pilots from flying over Afghanistan, saying such flights are "not in the national security interests of the United States." The little-noticed edict was signed by Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey and became effective September 19.

• Iraq will probably be a target of U.S. military action in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and American forces may be "right close" to such an attack, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, told CNN Saturday. (Full story)

• U.S. government sources indicate to CNN that the unmanned spy plane the Taliban said they shot down on Saturday was providing intelligence for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Both the CIA and the Pentagon are refusing to comment. (Full story)

• Diplomatic sources say that Saudi Arabia could make an announcement in the coming days about changing its relationship with the Taliban. The U.S. wants Saudi Arabia to break off diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Also, Saudi Arabia has not yet explicitly stated its support for the United States to use a Saudi airbase in a possible attack against Afghanistan or any other countries suspected of harboring terrorists.

• President Bush on Saturday signed into law an emergency aid package for the U.S. airline industry, saying that "the terrorists who attacked our country on September 11th will not shut down our vital businesses or thwart our way of life." (Full story)

• An administration official told CNN on Saturday that Bush plans to sign an executive order freezing the U.S. assets of specific suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations. The official said the order could be signed as early as this weekend but would not confirm that bin Laden or his organization, al Qaeda, would be on that list.

• Time magazine reports that U.S. law enforcement officials found a manual on the operation of crop-dusting equipment during a search of a suspected terrorist hideout. Government sources told the magazine the U.S. suspects that members of bin Laden's group may have planned to use crop-dusting planes to spread chemical or biological weapons. (Full story)

• Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Saturday he had authorized a plan to arrest, and if necessary, kill accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden -- and had even contacted a group in Afghanistan to carry out the plan. But that group was not successful, he said. (Full story)

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