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Suicide Blast Rocks Ministry in Kabul

A suspected Taliban suicide bomber shot his way into the Ministry of Information and Culture in central Kabul on Thursday, then blew himself up, leaving at least two others dead and severely damaging a kindergarten, officials and witnesses said.

The blast, which also wounded at least 21 people, set off a panicky scramble by parents working at the ministry to find their kindergartners, but it appeared that only two were among the wounded, said the police chief of Kabul, Gen. Muhammad Ayub Salangi, after he toured the scene.

The attack was notable more for its audacity than the number of victims. The ability of Taliban insurgents and their affiliates to successfully strike at guarded targets in the Afghan capital has hurt confidence in the government and the U.S.-led war effort here.

No senior officials were killed or hurt in the attack, but ministry workers emerged shaken from the five-story building.

The bomber first killed a policeman at the entrance of the building and then set off the explosion inside, Salangi said.

A second man died later, according to the deputy police chief, Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadazi.

Iraqi Ministry Adopts Political Neutrality

Iraq’s defense minister announced Thursday that all employees of the ministry, from the highest officials to the lowliest soldiers, would be required to remain politically neutral.

Officials in the ministry will be required to sign pledges stating that they will not run for political office, work on political campaigns, attend political demonstrations, or join any political organizations, the minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi , said in a morning news conference. It was not immediately clear if soldiers and other employees would have to sign the pledge.

“The Ministry of Defense is committed to a military without party or political affiliations,” al-Obeidi said. “The Iraqi people are soon to have provincial elections as well as elections at the district and commune levels. Military men must be nonaffiliated and must not be involved in the elections except in guarding the voter’s right to freedom.”

Al-Obeidi’s news conference was widely perceived as an open rebuke to Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who founded the Iraqi Constitutional Party in June 2005.

In Russia, Increasing Unease Over Economy

At the start of the global financial crisis, Russian authorities insisted they had ample cash reserves to weather any storm. But as sorrow has succeeded sorrow — plummeting oil prices, a 70 percent descent in stock markets here, a global credit crisis and a slow-motion bank run on this country’s private banks — Russia has had to spend its reserves faster than anybody imagined.

On Aug. 8, reserves peaked at just under $600 billion, the third largest in the world. By this week, they had fallen to $484 billion, as money flew out of government vaults to support the ruble, prop up the banking system and bail out the businesses of the rich Russians known as oligarchs.