7 Die in gangland violence in Mexico

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Seven people died in two separate instances of gangland violence in northern Mexico, officials told Efe.

Five people were fatally shot before dawn Friday inside a business in the city of Torreon, a source in the Coahuila state Attorney General's Office said. Killed were the business owner and his two adult sons, another adult and a 15-year-old boy.

Police in the business and industrial metropolis of Monterrey found two men decapitated on a street in the Arturo B. de la Garza neighborhood.

The bodies of the two victims, both in their mid-20s, were covered with blankets and bound with cable, while their severed heads were left nearby in a bag, a source in the Nuevo Leon state investigations agency told Efe.

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Nicaragua turns to Chinese firm to finance canal project

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Nicaragua has signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese company on financing for a $30 billion inter-oceanic canal, a government official told Efe.

The document was signed by Nicaraguan deputy foreign minister and president of the Grand Interoceanic Canal Authority, Manuel Coronel Kautz, and the head of the HK Nicaragua Development Inversion Company, Wing Jang, the official said.

In the MOU, the Nicaraguan government authorized the Hong Kong-domiciled firm to structure and manage the financing for the project, President Daniel Ortega said in comments posted on the government Web site El 19 Digital.

The Nicaraguan Congress, controlled by Ortega's allies, approved a bill on July 3 authorizing construction of the inter-oceanic canal project, a joint public/private venture in which the state will have a 51 percent stake and offer the remaining 49 percent to countries, international organizations, corporations or individuals.

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Peruvian soldier killed in rebel attack on chopper

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A Peruvian soldier was killed Friday when one or more guerrillas fired at an army helicopter flying over jungle in the southern region of Cuzco, the military said.

The attack took place at 12:45 p.m. during an aerial patrol in the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or VRAE, area, according to a statement from the high command.

Army Cpl. Johny Huatorongo Huaman died from bullet wounds.

The chopper was attacked while flying over station KP-150 on the Camisea natural gas pipeline in the Kepashiato district, where remnants of the Shining Path rebel group kidnapped 36 gas company employees in April. The workers were eventually released unharmed, but 10 police and soldiers died in clashes with the captors.

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Venezuela holding U.S. cargo ship, skipper

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Venezuelan authorities are holding a U.S.-flagged cargo vessel in the port city of Maracaibo and have arrested the ship's captain, an American diplomatic source told Efe.

"The captain (a U.S. citizen) is detained and the crew is still aboard" the Ocean Atlas, the source said, adding that Venezuelan authorities have offered no official explanation.

The case of the Ocean Atlas comes a month after Venezuela detained a U.S. citizen who, according to President Hugo Chavez, admitted to having served with the Marines and appeared "to be a mercenary." That individual remains in Venezuelan custody, the U.S. diplomatic source said.

"We don't have more information. We have consular access, we have access to him and he is detained in Caracas," the source told Efe, explaining that the individual has withheld permission to release his name or any other personal details.

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Venezuelan presidential candidate challenges Chavez to debate

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Opposition hopeful Henrique Capriles challenged Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to a debate on the nation's problems with exactly one month to go before the presidential election.

"I challenge the government, let us debate our ideas of government anywhere in the country," Capriles said at a rally in the eastern state of Monagas.

Capriles, the 40-year-old former governor of the central state of Miranda, said the only debate that interests Chavez is an exchange of insults.

Capriles challenged Chavez to discuss the housing situation and the plight of those left homeless by natural disasters and who are still living in shelters today. He again insisted that he will not abolish the social programs implemented by Chavez since he first took office in 1999.

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Del Potro falls to Djokovic in U.S. Open quarters

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Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro came closer than anyone to winning a set against defending champion Novak Djokovic at this year's U.S. Open, but the Serb and his jaw-dropping athleticism and backhand proved too much in a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 victory in the quarterfinals.

The much-anticipated night match started off as a dud, with Djokovic exhibiting his power and consistency from the baseline in breaking Del Potro's serve on two occasions to win the first set in just 39 minutes.

"Even though it was a three-set win, it was much closer than the score indicated," Djokovic said in the post-match interview.

"He's a great player. I was lucky to get out of the second set with a two-set advantage. It's always entertaining playing in these night sessions. I'm very happy to be in the semi-finals."

EFE