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story.lead_photo.caption A view from the air Saturday shows the extent of damage to a gas plant in Yima city in central China’s Henan province.

Toll in China gas plant blast rises to 15

BEIJING — Authorities in central China said today the death toll in a gas plant explosion has risen to 15 with another 15 seriously injured.

China’s Ministry of Emergency Management says about 270 firefighters and rescue workers have completed three rounds of search and rescue since the Friday evening explosion in Yima city in Henan province.

The explosion shattered windows 2 miles away and knocked off doors inside buildings, Chinese state media reports said.

The official Xinhua news agency said the explosion occurred in the air separation unit of the Yima gas factory of the Henan Coal Gas (Group) Co., Ltd. The blast was not in the gas tank areas, and all production has been stopped.

China experiences frequent industrial accidents despite orders from the central government to improve safety at factories, power plants and mines.

More than 60 people died in March in a chemical plant explosion in eastern Jiangsu province.

Kosovo premier’s exit raises ‘trick’ cry

BELGRADE, Serbia — The surprise decision by Kosovo’s prime minister to step down over a call for questioning from a Hague-based court has been slammed as a “political trick” by Serbia’s president.

Aleksandar Vucic said Saturday that Ramush Haradinaj’s resignation the day before was designed to rally popular support and could fuel ethnic tensions in Kosovo.

Haradinaj said he made the decision to step down after the court, which is investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs around the 1998-99 war between Serbia and Kosovo, summoned him for questioning.

He said he didn’t want to appear before the court as prime minister.

Haradinaj was a top ethnic Albanian rebel commander during the conflict, which resulted in more than 10,000 people killed before NATO airstrikes forced Serbia to pull out.

A former Serbian province, Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move that Belgrade does not recognize. Talks between the two that are being mediated by the European Union stalled last year over Kosovo’s decision to impose a 100% tax on goods from Serbia.

Vucic said Serbia is ready to return to the negotiating table as soon as Kosovo abolishes the tariffs. However, he said, any snap election in Kosovo would mean that a resumption would be impossible and taxes won’t be removed.

“We fear that political developments in Kosovo lead to further delay of talks and dialogue with Pristina,” Vucic told reporters. “The resignation of Ramush Haradinaj is a political trick so he can gain more popularity and crush political opponents.”

Serbia has repeatedly accused Haradinaj of war crimes against Serbs in Kosovo.

Iraqi troops press ahead on routing ISIS

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military said Saturday that its troops in partnership with security agencies and paramilitary forces launched the second phase of an operation aimed at clearing remnants of the Islamic State group from north of Baghdad and surrounding areas.

This is the second phase of the operation dubbed Will to Victory, which started two weeks earlier and targeted the area along the border with Syria. The military said the new target area is north of Baghdad and in the Diyala, Salahuddin and Anbar provinces.

Although Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State group in July 2017, the extremists have turned into an insurgency and continue to carry out deadly attacks in the country.

The military said Iraqi troops, Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, the federal police and others are taking part in the operation supported by the Iraqis and the U.S-led international coalition.

On Saturday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi visited the operation room alongside the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Afghanistan airstrikes kill 10 civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials say at least 10 civilians have been killed in separate airstrikes by Afghan security forces in western Badghis province.

Ziauddin Akazai, a lawmaker from Badghis, said two other people were wounded in Friday night’s attacks in Bala Murghab district.

Abdul Aziz Beg, head of the provincial council, said insurgents have surrounded an army base in the district. He said helicopters have been trying to reach the base, but insurgents are shooting from nearby villages and any return fire would endanger villagers.

Three children, two women and five men were among those killed in the attacks, said Beg.

The Taliban, who control roughly half of Afghanistan, posted photos of dead children on their Twitter account saying that civilians were killed by the airstrikes in Badghis province.

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