News Wrap: Afghan Troops Launch New Offensive

KWAME HOLMAN: The Afghan military reported a new offensive killed 27 Taliban militants today. The operation is targeting a western province that has emerged as a Taliban stronghold in the last three years.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, a NATO airstrike killed four civilians, as well as four insurgents. NATO and Afghan officials say they have launched a joint investigation into the strike.

In India, government forces came under heavy attack from Maoist rebels. Seventy-six Indian troops were killed in what was the deadliest strike in a 43-year-long insurgency. The soldiers had been patrolling a dense forest in eastern India, when hundreds of insurgents ambushed them with explosives and gunfire. The Indian government recently launched a new offensive against the rebels to flush them out of their forest hideouts.

Tugboats arrived at a grounded ship off Australia to try to stabilize it and prevent further oil spills. The giant coal-carrying ship threatens the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral habitat. Fuel oil leaked out after the Chinese vessel struck the reef Saturday. A boom was being placed around it while workers tried to keep it from breaking apart.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the carrier never should have been in protected waters.

KEVIN RUDD, Australian prime minister: It is, frankly, outrageous that a vessel this size could find itself 12 kilometers off course in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. And it's time we got to the bottom of how this could have occurred and to hold those who are responsible for this accountable.

KWAME HOLMAN: Australian authorities are investigating whether the ship was taking an unauthorized shortcut through the reefs.

More than 80 people died today in heavy flooding and landslides in Brazil. Torrential rains swamped Rio de Janeiro, paralyzing traffic and closing most businesses and schools. The mudslides hit Rio's hillside slums the hardest, where at least 50 people died. The rain fell for 15 hours straight, and more rain is expected in the next few days.

Britain began preparations for a general election set for May 6. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor Party is trailing in opinion polls to the Conservatives, led by David Cameron.

We have a report from Gary Gibbon of Independent Television News.

GARY GIBBON: The queen hopped back to Buckingham Palace from Windsor only minutes before the prime minister set off to see her. Gordon Brown said the May 6 election date was the worst-kept secret. His route to the palace, no secret to Conservative campaigners trying to catch the helicopter's eye.

When Gordon Brown returned to Number 10 with the queen's formal permission to announce the election date, the Cabinet was lined up behind him for his declaration.

GORDON BROWN, British prime minister: The queen has kindly agreed to the dissolution of parliament and a general election will take place on May the 6th.

I'm asking the British people, I'm asking you, the British people, for a clear and straightforward mandate to continue the urgent and hard work of securing the recovery, building our industries for the future, and creating a million skilled jobs over the next five years. The future is within our grasp. It is a future fair for all.

Now, all of us, let's go to it.

GARY GIBBON: David Cameron launched his campaign across the Thames, pointing back at parliament as if he was an outsider — his first words, a very personal attack on the prime minister.

DAVID CAMERON, leader, British Conservative Party: You don't have to put up with another five years of Gordon Brown.

DAVID CAMERON: I want to tell you who I'm fighting this election for. It's the people I call the great ignored. They may be black or white. They may be rich or poor. They may live in the town or the country.

They work hard. They set up businesses. They work in factories. They teach our children. They keep our streets safe. They obey the law. They pay the taxes. They do the right thing. They're the honest, hardworking people of our country. And they're desperate to know that, in this great country, we can still achieve great things.

GARY GIBBON: Where you go first on day one is a big statement at a moment like this. Gordon Brown wanted a photo opportunity to show off some shiny new infrastructure, but also to show he didn't consider himself a vote-killer in the south.

David Cameron visited Birmingham Edgbaston, a labor marginal, and then went on to Leeds. The Conservatives' recovery in the north of England has lagged well behind its improvement elsewhere, and Mr. Cameron must make headway in this campaign if he's to win a majority.

KWAME HOLMAN: Brown's Labor Party has been in power for 13 years. But Labor lost seats in 2005, in part because of its support of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

A federal appeals court in Washington dealt a blow to government regulation of the Internet today. It said the Federal Communications Commission cannot require broadband service providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. The FCC is working on Net neutrality rules to prevent phone and cable companies from favoring some online content with better access. The ruling was a victory for Comcast Corporation, the nation's largest cable company.

A man in Washington State was charged today with threatening to kill Democratic Senator Patty Murray. Charles Alan Wilson, who is 64, is accused of targeting Murray over her support for health care reform. He allegedly left voice-mail messages at her office in Seattle, saying it only takes one piece of lead. FBI agents said Wilson is a registered handgun owner and has a valid concealed-weapons permit.

It was a mixed day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than three points to close at 10970. The Nasdaq rose seven points to close above 2436.

The Duke Blue Devils spent today celebrating their new status as champions of men's college basketball. Duke beat the Butler Bulldogs 61-59 for their fourth national title. A potential game-winning half-court shot by Butler barely missed at the buzzer.

The women's NCAA championship gets decided tonight, when Stanford faces the University of Connecticut.