DUBAI - Warships from around the world were assembling in the Gulf on Sunday for what the US military described as the most widely attended international naval exercise ever held in the Middle East.

The exercise, which Washington says involves manoeuvrings to improve mine detection and clearance, comes at a time of rising regional tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports passes, and target US military bases in the region if it was attacked.

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