World briefs 9/15/03

Estonia to join historic expansion EU group

TALLINN, Estonia -- Estonians voted Sunday to join a historic expansion of the European Union, fulfilling what once seemed an unattainable dream for the small Baltic state.

The supporters of joining the federation of European nations had 67 percent of the vote, according to results from nearly all polling stations, Estonia's Central Election Commission reported. The other 33 percent voted no on the referendum.

More than 60 percent of 850,000 eligible voters cast ballots, though there was no minimum turnout requirement for the vote to be valid.

With this vote, eight of 10 nations invited to become new members of the European Union next year have approved referendums endorsing the move.

Former President Bush meets with Russia's Putin

SOCHI, Russia -- Former President George H.W. Bush met Vladimir Putin upon arriving Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, less than two weeks ahead of his son's talks with the Russian leader.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, traveled to Sochi on a plane provided by the airline that serves Putin and other Russian government figures. Putin, his black Labrador retriever nearby, greeted them on the tarmac in English, shaking Bush's hand and giving Barbara a bouquet of roses.

Putin rarely meets even high-level visitors at the airport, and Bush thanked him for his "extraordinary courtesy."

"I can tell you our president will be overcome with gratitude for the way you are treating Barbara and me," Bush said.

Dressed casually, Bush and Putin held talks at a modest presidential mansion and strolled with their wives before dinner in the large, lush garden sloping down to the sea.

South Korea picks up pieces after typhoon

SEOUL, South Korea -- Soldiers were deployed Sunday to search for missing people, repair roads and distribute relief supplies after South Korea's most powerful typhoon on record battered the country and killed at least 85 people.

At least 30 people were still missing after Typhoon Maemi mauled the southeastern coast late Friday and early Saturday. The Yonhap news agency said the death toll could exceed 120 as casualty reports arrive from isolated areas.

Packing record winds of 135 mph, the typhoon lifted shipping containers in the air, toppled gigantic cranes and flipped an evacuated cruise ship on its side in Busan, South Korea's second-largest city and the worst-hit urban area.

The typhoon exited South Korea on Saturday and dissipated into the East Sea on Sunday. Seoul, the capital, was unaffected.

On Sunday, the government released $1.2 billion for relief and recovery work across the country, the National Disaster Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters said.

Taliban destroy Afghan border police station

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Suspected Taliban rebels raided and set ablaze a police station in southeastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, but there were no injuries, a provincial police commander said Sunday.

More than 15 heavily armed attackers riding motorcycles raided a compound housing the station and district offices in Jani Khel in Paktika province early Saturday. Police briefly traded gunfire but were forced to retreat after running out of ammunition, provincial police chief Doulat Khan said.

"The Taliban also retreated after burning down a part of the compound," Khan said.

In recent months, Taliban insurgents, their al-Qaida allies and militiamen loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have stepped up hit-and-run attacks against Afghan soldiers, government officials and humanitarian workers in the south and east of the country, the heartland of the hardline Islamic regime before its ouster by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

--From wire reports