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News Wrap: Taliban, Afghan Officials Reportedly in Talks to End War

October 6, 2010 at 4:48 PM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: There were new reports today of high-level talks designed to end the war in Afghanistan. They came a day before the conflict begins its 10th year. The Washington Post reported, the Afghan government is secretly engaged in conversations with Taliban leaders.

At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said the talks are entirely consistent with U.S. goals.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: The reconciliation, you know, element, and the reintegration element are part of, you know, the — you know, the political dimension of our strategy.

Because we’re talking about the future of Afghanistan, these — this will actually have to be ultimately an arrangement done by the Afghan government. We support it, but we will not be directly involved in it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In all, some 2,000 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. That total includes more than 1,200 Americans.

Hungary launched a criminal investigation today into a toxic sludge disaster. Emergency crews struggled to keep the torrent of reddish mud from reaching the Danube River 45 miles away. We have a report narrated by Julian Rush of Independent Television News.

JULIAN RUSH: Three people are still missing two days after this lethal torrent of red sludge swept through the villages in the Hungarian countryside, In places, the toxic tidal wave over three meters deep, this amateur video capturing the force of the flood.

Around a million cubic meters of sludge poured out when the dam burst that normally walls in a huge lagoon of waste from processing bauxite at an aluminum works, staining the land blood-red, sweeping into villages taken by surprise — in its wake, a rust-red devastation that extends for miles. The walls of the houses show just how deep it was, the sludge red from iron oxide, just as iron colors blood.

The cleanup has begun, but this stuff is highly alkaline. Viciously caustic, it burns the skin and irritates the eyes and lungs. It’s as if the villages have been scoured with the sort of chemicals you use to clear out blocked drains.

WOMAN (through translator): I was stuck in the sludge for 45 minutes, covered in sludge up to here. It had a strong current that almost swept me away, but I managed to hang on to a strong piece of wood. But I could hardly breathe because the air, the smell, the froth really hit me.

JULIAN RUSH: Hungary has declared a state of emergency amid fears heavy rain will speed the spread of the sludge.

One major river has already been polluted. And the Danube is threatened. The E.U. says rivers and lakes in six countries are in danger of being contaminated. A criminal inquiry has started. The company says the dam was inspected on Monday, nothing untoward was seen, nor was there anything they could do to avert what they called a natural catastrophe.

Company managers said the waste isn’t classified as hazardous under E.U. regulations, which prompted Hungary’s interior minister to suggest they should swim in it.

SANDOR PINTER, Hungarian interior minister (through translator): In terms of who’s responsible, we can now declare that there was no natural disaster. That is not where the wall of the reservoir broke, so the next question is to determine who is responsible for this tragedy.

JULIAN RUSH: Looking like toys, diggers have begun to plug the giant breach in the reservoir wall to try to prevent more waste spilling out.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The toxic spill is blamed for at least four deaths so far.

The death toll from flooding and landslides across Asia has topped 110. Most of the dead were in Eastern Indonesia, where days of heavy rain touched off landslides. Thousands of homes were damaged, and villagers were left to trudge through muddy torrents. In Central Vietnam, people had to climb on rooftops to escape rising water. The Chinese island of Hainan was also hard-hit, with 64,000 people forced to evacuate.

White House officials may have blocked the Coast Guard and NOAA from initially telling the public the worst about the BP oil disaster. That’s according to the national commission investigating the spill. It said today that early estimates of the Gulf spill ranged from 2.7 million to 4.6 million gallons a day. The figure released to the public was 210,000 gallons.

The administration today disputed the findings. It said senior officials announced in early May that the worst-case could top four million gallons a day.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry today recognized research that is used in everything from new cancer drugs to slimmer computer screens. The award went to American Richard Heck and two Japanese scientists, Akira Suzuki and Ei-ichi Negishi. In the 1960s and ’70s, they used the metal palladium to find new ways to bond carbon atoms to help build complex molecules. Heck is now affiliated with the University of Delaware and lives in the Philippines.

RICHARD HECK, Nobel Prize winner: And I am very, very honored to get this. And, of course, I am very happy to receive it. And I guess I would say it was a total surprise, but it — it was something that I knew was a possibility, but I didn’t really expect it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Heck was the only American among the Nobel science prize winners this year. There had been at least two every year since 1991.

Wall Street had a mixed day after a disappointing report on the jobs market. The payroll company ADP reported private employers cut jobs in September for the first time in seven months.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 23 points to close at 10967. The Nasdaq fell 19 points to close at 2380.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.