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>>Pakistan – According to information released today, U.S. President Bush gave orders in July allowing U.S. special forces to execute ground assaults in Pakistan without obtaining permission from Pakistan’s government. This development clearly highlights the ongoing mistrust by the U.S. of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. It is unclear upon what legal grounds the U.S. can pursue such a policy.

>>North Korea – After days of speculation about the health of Kim Jong-il following his absence from North Korea’s 60th birthday party parade, intelligence services from the U.S. and South Korea have reported that the leader suffered a stroke in mid-August. His death is not believed to be imminent. It is unclear which of his four children, if any, is next in the line of succession.

>>Bolivia – Evo Morales has expelled the U.S. ambassador, Philip Goldberg, after claiming that he was trying to break up the country. The U.S., apparently not informed of the decision in advance, called the claims “baseless.” In the last few weeks, groups seeking greater autonomy from the central government have rioted in Bolivia’s eastern provinces.

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>>China – Speaking in Thailand yesterday, President Bush denounced China’s treatment of political dissidents and limitations put on the press and religion hours ahead of his arrival in Beijing. President Bush is in the middle of a seven-day trip to Asia, which also included a stop in South Korea and will culminate with his attendance at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in China on Friday.

>>Pakistan – Pakistan’s ruling coalition today agreed to initiated impeachment proceedings against President Musharraf, expected to begin next week in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. It is expected that Musharraf will be asked to call a vote of confidence, and, if he refuses, the impeachment will begin. In order to be impeached two-thirds of both the upper and lower houses would need to approve; Musharraf would be the first. It was also announced today that Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani will attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics Games, not Musharraf as previously planned.

>>Mauritania – A bloodless coup d’etat was executed in Mauritania on Wednesday by a group of senior military officers who arrested the president and the prime minister, the first democratically elected government in two decades. The coup directly followed the president’s firing of the officers, some of whom were instrumental in the 2005 coup that led to President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi’s election and were his supporters. The officers have committed to holding elections soon. The UN, U.S., EU, and AU all condemned the coup.

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>>Iraq – While Senator Obama is wrapping up his, by all accounts, successful tour of the Middle East, the liberal blogosphere is jumping on Senator McCain’s assertion that the “Surge,” which is generally defined as beginning in January 2007, spawned the “Anbar Awakening,” which is generally thought to have begun in summer 2006. McCain’s campaign responded by saying that they occurred at the same time and that they were both spawned by U.S. troops.

>>Trade – After three days of negotiations, ministers from 35 nations meeting in Geneva are no closer to moving forward on the WTO’s Doha trade negotiations. In a breakout session last night, the seven main players — the EU, United States, Australia, China, India, Brazil and Japan — met in a marathon 12-hour session, that several sources have described as “tense.” The main point of contention is over the reduction of domestic farm subsidies in developed nations and the opening of developing nations’ borders to industrial good and services. Talks will move forward, but it’s unclear whether they will disintegrate before the Saturday close or push through into next week. Robin Pomeroy provides some color.

>>Sudan – President Omar al-Bashir traveled to Darfur yesterday in what some observers have called a “charm offensive.” ICC lead prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo recently submitted a request to a three-judge panel to indict Sudan’s leader on charges of genocide in the Darfur region.

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>>Pakistan – The U.S. military hit “anti-Afghan forces” in the Gora Pai region of Pakistan with artillery last night, killing 11 Pakistani soldiers and 8 Taleban militants. Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the attacks, and Pakistan’s military called them “cowardly.” U.S. strikes on Pakistan’s soil have killed over 50 people this year.

>>Afghanistan – One of history’s largest drug busts occurred yesterday in Kandahar on Monday. Counter-narcotics officials in southern Afghanistan found 260 tons of hashish, the weight of 30 double-decker buses, hidden in 6-foot-deep ditches.

>>China – Teams of Taiwanese and Chinese negotiators opened talks today in Beijing to finalize a deal that would open regular charter flights between Taiwan and China and sharply increase Chinese tourism in Taiwan. Both sides have described this as a first step toward broader agreements.

>>KenyaPeaceful elections were held for five parliamentary seats in Kenya yesterday, the outcome of which will determine who hold the majority in parliament. This was the first balloting since the disputed election last December that led to widespread ethnic violence, the death of 1,300 people, and the displacement of 300,000.

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>>Uganda, Sudan, and DR Congo – The military chiefs of Uganda, DR Congo, and Sudan cemented a deal yesterday to go after the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony if peace talks fail. Uganda has called for such a multinational force in the past. Kony most recently snubbed mediators in April.

>>Zimbabwe – Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was detained and charged with violating public order while campaigning yesterday. Such charges are often dropped in Zimbabwe’s courts due to lack of evidence.

>>Bangladesh – In the last few days, nearly 12,000 people, mainly politicians and businesspeople, have been arrested by the army-backed caretaker government. The administration took over in January 2007 after violent clashes between the two leading political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The recent detentions occurred soon after the leaders of those parties refused to talk with the government until they are freed from jail. Both leaders, former prime ministers, have been detained on corruption charges.

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>>Myanmar – The ruling junta belittled foreign aid in the wake of the cyclone as “chocolate bars” and stated that the 2.4 million victims could “stand by themselves” in an editorial in the state-run newspaper. The junta simultaneously accused the international community of being stingy as the UN’s $201 million flash appeal hasn’t been filled by donor nations. Meanwhile, the NY Times reports that an “economy warped by years of misrule” is hindering aid delivery.

>>Nepal – Yesterday, a special assembly elected in April abolished Nepal’s 239-year-old Hindu monarchy. The king’s palace will be turned into a museum; he has 15 days to vacate.

>>Iran – Yesterday, Ali Larijani, a rival to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the former nuclear negotiator, was elected as the speaker Iran’s parliament. He is conservative and a supporter of Iran’s nuclear program, but is seen as being more pragmatic and open to diplomacy. However, his election is more likely due to butter issues, discontent with Ahmadinejad’s management of the economy.

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>>Somalia – Today U.S. strikes in Somalia killed Aden Hashi Ayro, al Qaeda’s leader in Somalia who has led al Shabaab militants in attacks against government and Ethiopian troops. Violence led by Ayro had intensified in recent weeks with attacks in Mogadishu and quick raids in surrounding areas. Reports suggest that civilians were also killed in the attack.

>>Haiti – A top World Food Program official has said that Haiti faces a “major crisis” if international donors don’t pony up for emergency aid. Earlier this month, six Haitians were killed in widespread protests about the rising cost of food. The WFP has appealed for $54 million to help dampen the increase. According to the WFP, two-thirds of Haitians live on less than $1 a day and almost half are undernourished. Meanwhile, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos are weighing a rice cartel.

>>Iraq – According to figures from Iraq’s Health Ministry, April was the deadliest month since last August for Iraqi civilians, 898 of whom died last month. According to U.S. military reports, 49 U.S. soldiers died in April, the deadliest month since last September. The majority of the deaths occurred in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been fighting an offensive against militants associated with Moqtada al Sadr.

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>>Somalia – Today U.S. strikes in Somalia killed Aden Hashi Ayro, al Qaeda’s leader in Somalia who has led al Shabaab militants in attacks against government and Ethiopian troops. Violence led by Ayro had intensified in recent weeks with attacks in Mogadishu and quick raids in surrounding areas. Reports suggest that civilians were also killed in the attack.

>>Haiti – A top World Food Program official has said that Haiti faces a “major crisis” if international donors don’t pony up for emergency aid. Earlier this month, six Haitians were killed in widespread protests about the rising cost of food. The WFP has appealed for $54 million to help dampen the increase. According to the WFP, two-thirds of Haitians live on less than $1 a day and almost half are undernourished. Meanwhile, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos are weighing a rice cartel.

>>Iraq – According to figures from Iraq’s Health Ministry, April was the deadliest month since last August for Iraqi civilians, 898 of whom died last month. According to U.S. military reports, 49 U.S. soldiers died in April, the deadliest month since last September. The majority of the deaths occurred in Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been fighting an offensive against militants associated with Moqtada al Sadr.

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>>North Korea – Seven months after a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria was destroyed by Israel, the U.S. government has said that it will make public video evidence of North Koreans working on the reactor. Analysts say that the reactor was molded on the one that North Korea used to obtain fuel for its nuclear weapons. Some question the timing of the release; A senior administration official said, to the New York Times, “Making public the pictures is likely to inflame the North Koreans. And that’s just what opponents of this whole arrangement want, because they think the North Koreans will stalk off.”

>>United States – General David Petraeus and Lt. General Raymond Odierno, two commanders most closely associated with President Bush’s strategy in Iraq, have been promoted. Petraeus will become commander of CentCom, covering East Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East; Odierno, formerly Petraeus’s deputy, will take his spot as the senior commander in Iraq. Petraeus’ promotion could jumpstart a renewed focus on Afghanistan, which he has said could stand some more American troops.

>>Pakistan – Bailtullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander said to have ordered the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has ordered his followers to cease attacks. Mehsud operates mainly in the Southern Waziristan area of Pakistan. On Monday night, Pakistan’s government set free Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of an outlawed Islamist group that has fought in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mehsud’s spokesman said in an interview that his release was part of a new peace deal.

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>>North Korea – Seven months after a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria was destroyed by Israel, the U.S. government has said that it will make public video evidence of North Koreans working on the reactor. Analysts say that the reactor was molded on the one that North Korea used to obtain fuel for its nuclear weapons. Some question the timing of the release; A senior administration official said, to the New York Times, “Making public the pictures is likely to inflame the North Koreans. And that’s just what opponents of this whole arrangement want, because they think the North Koreans will stalk off.”

>>United States – General David Petraeus and Lt. General Raymond Odierno, two commanders most closely associated with President Bush’s strategy in Iraq, have been promoted. Petraeus will become commander of CentCom, covering East Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East; Odierno, formerly Petraeus’s deputy, will take his spot as the senior commander in Iraq. Petraeus’ promotion could jumpstart a renewed focus on Afghanistan, which he has said could stand some more American troops.

>>Pakistan – Bailtullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander said to have ordered the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has ordered his followers to cease attacks. Mehsud operates mainly in the Southern Waziristan area of Pakistan. On Monday night, Pakistan’s government set free Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of an outlawed Islamist group that has fought in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mehsud’s spokesman said in an interview that his release was part of a new peace deal.

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>>Russia and friends – Yesterday Russia announced its expanded support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist republics in Georgia. The “support” falls short of full recognition, a step that Russia has threatened in response to the declared independence of Kosovo and Georgia’s bid for NATO membership, but will include direct relations and deeper trade, agriculture, education, diplomacy, and social ties, modeled after the U.S. relationship with Taiwan. Georgia’s foreign minister David Bakradze said that Georgia will seek a special session of the UN Security Council in response.

>>Olympics – Tibetans living in New Delhi greeted the Olympic torch’s arrival with protests yesterday. Over 15,000 police will guard the torch today as it continues its route through the capital, which has already been barricaded and truncated to about a third of its original five-mile length. In advance of the torch’s arrival, protesters lit an alternate torch at Ghandi’s burial spot and planned a parallel relay. Delhi police said they would allow the relay, but would extinguish any alternate torches.

>>South Korea – Yesterday South Korea announced that it would cull 3 million farm birds due to three more bird flu outbreaks. The nation has already had 15 confirmed cases of H5N1 in the last two weeks.

>>East Timor – President and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta returned home yesterday following more than two months of treatment in Australia for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt by those loyal to rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. Ramos-Horta was greeted by a military parade and thousands of supporters.

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>>Russia and friends – Yesterday Russia announced its expanded support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist republics in Georgia. The “support” falls short of full recognition, a step that Russia has threatened in response to the declared independence of Kosovo and Georgia’s bid for NATO membership, but will include direct relations and deeper trade, agriculture, education, diplomacy, and social ties, modeled after the U.S. relationship with Taiwan. Georgia’s foreign minister David Bakradze said that Georgia will seek a special session of the UN Security Council in response.

>>Olympics – Tibetans living in New Delhi greeted the Olympic torch’s arrival with protests yesterday. Over 15,000 police will guard the torch today as it continues its route through the capital, which has already been barricaded and truncated to about a third of its original five-mile length. In advance of the torch’s arrival, protesters lit an alternate torch at Ghandi’s burial spot and planned a parallel relay. Delhi police said they would allow the relay, but would extinguish any alternate torches.

>>South Korea – Yesterday South Korea announced that it would cull 3 million farm birds due to three more bird flu outbreaks. The nation has already had 15 confirmed cases of H5N1 in the last two weeks.

>>East Timor – President and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta returned home yesterday following more than two months of treatment in Australia for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt by those loyal to rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. Ramos-Horta was greeted by a military parade and thousands of supporters.

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>>Nepal – Today the citizens of Nepal vote in their first election in nine years, the result of a peace deal with Maoist rebels who have ended their decade-long insurgency to transition to a legitimate political party. The campaign was plagued with violence and intimidation (the Maoists in particular were accused), leaving at least 12 people dead, including two candidates. The new 601-member parliament will write a new constitution and likely abolish Nepal’s 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, the last remaining. The tabulation process is complicated, as representatives are apportioned both nationwide and as a result of direct election and are bound by quotas for women and Nepal’s many ethnic and caste groups. UN election monitors don’t expect results until the end of April or early may. Maoists have agreed to accept the results of today’s election, but some fear that hardliners might take to the streets.

>>Zimbabwe – Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa has called for an emergengy meeting of southern African leaders to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe under the umbrella of the South African Development Community, chaired by Mwanawasa. The opposition party in Zimbabwe has repeatedly complained about the “deafening silence” from regional leaders.

>>Olympic – City officials in San Francisco went to extraordinary lengths to insure that the Olympic torch was unmolested in its only appearance in the United States. The torch relay was rerouted at the last second, as police along the original route donned riot gear to fool protestors into believing that the torch’s arrival was imminent. The relay was then accompanied by a phalanx of uniformed police officers on foot and motorcyle as it made its way towards Golden Gate Park with protestors and media in hot pursuit. The torch was then whisked away to the airport, leapfrogging the closing ceremony. In what some believe is an effort to distract attention from the protestors, China announced today that it had foiled a plot by Uighur separatists, a group that China has tried to lump in with President Bush’s “war on terror,” to kidnap athletes and journalists during the Olympics.

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>>Nepal – Today the citizens of Nepal vote in their first election in nine years, the result of a peace deal with Maoist rebels who have ended their decade-long insurgency to transition to a legitimate political party. The campaign was plagued with violence and intimidation (the Maoists in particular were accused), leaving at least 12 people dead, including two candidates. The new 601-member parliament will write a new constitution and likely abolish Nepal’s 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, the last remaining. The tabulation process is complicated, as representatives are apportioned both nationwide and as a result of direct election and are bound by quotas for women and Nepal’s many ethnic and caste groups. UN election monitors don’t expect results until the end of April or early may. Maoists have agreed to accept the results of today’s election, but some fear that hardliners might take to the streets.

>>Zimbabwe – Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa has called for an emergengy meeting of southern African leaders to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe under the umbrella of the South African Development Community, chaired by Mwanawasa. The opposition party in Zimbabwe has repeatedly complained about the “deafening silence” from regional leaders.

>>Olympic – City officials in San Francisco went to extraordinary lengths to insure that the Olympic torch was unmolested in its only appearance in the United States. The torch relay was rerouted at the last second, as police along the original route donned riot gear to fool protestors into believing that the torch’s arrival was imminent. The relay was then accompanied by a phalanx of uniformed police officers on foot and motorcyle as it made its way towards Golden Gate Park with protestors and media in hot pursuit. The torch was then whisked away to the airport, leapfrogging the closing ceremony. In what some believe is an effort to distract attention from the protestors, China announced today that it had foiled a plot by Uighur separatists, a group that China has tried to lump in with President Bush’s “war on terror,” to kidnap athletes and journalists during the Olympics.

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French linguistic purists are waging a war in defense of the point-virgule (semi-colon), which they say is being driven to extinction by the lazy habits of English speakers.

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>>China – China jailed 34-year-old Hu Jia, an outspoken rights activist, for three and a half years on Thursday. The sentence was relatively light for those similarly charged under the Chinese system. Hu Jia is the most prominent activist yet to be sentenced in the recent clampdown.

>>Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has lost control of parliament for the first time since the nation’s independence, according to official results released by the Zimbabwe Elections Commisison. The final results from the presidential election have not yet been released, but it appears from the posturing of President Mugabe and the state-run media as if there will be a runoff between the president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change contends that Tsvangirai has garnered the necessary votes to avoid a runoff. Meanwhile, the British are working on an unprecedented £1-billion-a-year aid and development package for Zimbabwe, to be coordinated by the UN, IMF, EU, and World Bank, which believe that Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, as much as 100,000%, could be brought under control in as little as a year. President Mugabe has turned down similar packages in the past.

>>NATO – Yesterday NATO leaders did not grant a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the path to eventual membership, to Georgia or the Ukraine, whose candidacies were strongly supported by President Bush. They did, however, agree that the two nations would some day join NATO and to review their progress in December. Bush instead won NATO’s endorsement for the U.S.’s missile defense system, which coincided with the Czech Republic’s announcement that they would install a missile tracking site for the system. NATO also failed to offer Macedonia an invitation to join, due to Greece’s objection over the name issue.

>>Ireland – Prime Minister Bertie “Teflon Taoiseach” Ahern unexpectedly stepped down after 11 years in office amid corruption charges. Ahern denied the allegations, and supporters suggest that his political career is not over, floating the possibility of his taking the helm as the first permanent president of the European Union.

>>Cyprus – As Greek and Turkish Cypriots prepare for talks to end the island’s division, they tore down barricades and reopened Ledra street, which has symbolized the line of partition for decades.

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French linguistic purists are waging a war in defense of the point-virgule (semi-colon), which they say is being driven to extinction by the lazy habits of English speakers.

Starting 5

>>China – China jailed 34-year-old Hu Jia, an outspoken rights activist, for three and a half years on Thursday. The sentence was relatively light for those similarly charged under the Chinese system. Hu Jia is the most prominent activist yet to be sentenced in the recent clampdown.

>>Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has lost control of parliament for the first time since the nation’s independence, according to official results released by the Zimbabwe Elections Commisison. The final results from the presidential election have not yet been released, but it appears from the posturing of President Mugabe and the state-run media as if there will be a runoff between the president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change contends that Tsvangirai has garnered the necessary votes to avoid a runoff. Meanwhile, the British are working on an unprecedented £1-billion-a-year aid and development package for Zimbabwe, to be coordinated by the UN, IMF, EU, and World Bank, which believe that Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, as much as 100,000%, could be brought under control in as little as a year. President Mugabe has turned down similar packages in the past.

>>NATO – Yesterday NATO leaders did not grant a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the path to eventual membership, to Georgia or the Ukraine, whose candidacies were strongly supported by President Bush. They did, however, agree that the two nations would some day join NATO and to review their progress in December. Bush instead won NATO’s endorsement for the U.S.’s missile defense system, which coincided with the Czech Republic’s announcement that they would install a missile tracking site for the system. NATO also failed to offer Macedonia an invitation to join, due to Greece’s objection over the name issue.

>>Ireland – Prime Minister Bertie “Teflon Taoiseach” Ahern unexpectedly stepped down after 11 years in office amid corruption charges. Ahern denied the allegations, and supporters suggest that his political career is not over, floating the possibility of his taking the helm as the first permanent president of the European Union.

>>Cyprus – As Greek and Turkish Cypriots prepare for talks to end the island’s division, they tore down barricades and reopened Ledra street, which has symbolized the line of partition for decades.

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>>Korea – South Korea’s new government announced on Wednesday that it would speak out against North Korean human rights abuses and that aid would not be expanded until the North abandons its nuclear weapons program. North Korea responded by expelling 11 South Korean officials from the Kaesong joint industrial site, once a model of cooperation between the North and South. South Korea also stated this week that it would vote for a UN Human Rights Council resolution criticizing North Korea and calling for a full investigation.

>>Iraq – Prime Minister Maliki set a 72-hour deadline for Shia militia to lay down their weapons and avoid prosecution as fighting continued between 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and armed groups in Basra. The 4,100 British troops stationed at the Basra airport are not taking part in the crackdown. Iraqi and American troops have also been deployed to surround Sadr City in Baghdad, the home of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which is still maintaining its declared ceasefire. Sadr followers marched in protest, some saying that Maliki is working in league with al Sadr’s Shia rivals, the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council and the Badr Brigades, in an attempt to lessen his power prior to October provincial election.

>>Russa/U.S. – President Bush, who travels to Europe next week, has been invited by Russian president Putin to meet and attempt to iron out conflicts over possible NATO expansion into Georgia and the Ukraine and missile defense. It is likely to be their last meeting before Putin is replaced as president by Dmitri Medvedev, who will attend the meetings in his first substantial interaction with President Bush.

>>Somalia – The al Shabab islamic forces briefly captured Jowhar, a strategically placed town 50 miles north of Mogadishu, yestreday, releasing prisoners and taking weapons. In the past month, the faction has done the same in six towns in southern Somalia. The raid follows a a statement delivered to the UN Security Council by 40 NGOs on Tuesday warning of an “impending humanitarian crisis” in Somalia. The statement claims that nearly a million Somalis have been displaced. The Somali army is in shambles.

>>Iran – Iran has threatening legal action against the West for losses sustained from what it claims were illegal UN Security Council Sanctions passed on March 3. The threats were delivered in a letter from Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It is not yet clear where Iran would present such a case.

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>>Iraq – A law that would pave the way for provincial elections has been allowed to proceed by Iraq’s Presidency Council, possibly opening a new door to political progress. The law was originally part of a trifecta, including the 2008 budget and an amnesty bill, passed on February 14 and originally seen as a major breakthrough by U.S. leadership. The Presidency Council had since held back its enactment amid objections from Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi’ite, that the law would allow the central government to dissolve provincial governments.

>>Kosovo – Croatia, Hungary, and Bulgaria have announced that they will officially recognize Kosovo, bringing the total to over 30. Macedonia is also posed to do the same, but a minor border dispute with Kosovo is still outstanding. Kosovo, bound by international commitments to concede the mere 8 square miles in question, has said that it wants recognition first before deciding on the boundary.

>>Osama bin Laden – Last night, Osama bin Laden released a five-minute audio message treatening the EU over the publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammad, a “crusade” in which bin Laden claims the Pope is involved. This message, coinciding with what is celebrated as the birthday of the Prophet, was bin Laden’s first since 29 November 2007. The cartoons were first published two years ago by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and then reprinted by other papers . Danish newspapers again reprinted the cartoon on 13 February 2008, after three men were arrested in a plot to kill the cartoonist.

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In what may be one of the lamest ledes ever, the New York Times announces “Caution: Heavy Internet traffic ahead. Delays possible.” Best get your Morning Coffee while you can.

Starting 5

>>Tibet/India – The 100 Tibetan exiles who had disobeyed a directive by Indian police to cease their protest march from the Kangra district in India to their native country have now been detained by the Indian authorities. The protestors have since launched a hunger strike. Meanwhile, Chinese police fired tear gas into a crowd of 600 protesting monks in Tibet.

>>Cuba – Five Cuban soccer players, in the U.S. for Olympic regional qualifiers, went missing in Tampa on Tuesday night. Their disappearance has not been reported to the authorities, and they would likely be granted political asylum under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy were they to seek it.

>>Israel/Palestine – An Israeli raid in the West Bank that ended in the death of four Palestinian militants has further imperiled a ceasefire sought by Egypt.  The raid occurred just hours after Hamas declared the cessation of Israeli “agression” a necessary precondition to such a ceasefire. The four killed had been wanted by Israeli authorities for years. As an “initial response” Islamic Jihad fired rockets toward Israel from Gaza. Israel then retaliated with air strikes.

>>Pakistan – One of the two corruption charges that bar Benazir Bhutto’s widow Asif Ali Zardari from holding public office was dropped yesterday. Dismissing the charge was part of a power-sharing deal worked out with Bhutto in October. The final case will be ruled on Friday. Zardari did not run for a seat in the February 18 election, in which his party won the most seats, but could still try to win a spot in a by-election and become Prime Minister, assuming the other charge is dropped. Meanwhile, Musharraf has dangled a deal to give up his powers to dissolve parliament in exchange for opposition parties agreeing not to reinstate former supreme court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

>>Chad – The government of Chad has announced that heavily armed rebels are entering the country from Sudan. The two nations are set to sign a non-agression pact in Dakar in just a few hours prior to the opening of the OIC summit. Chadian and Darfuri rebels have dismissed the pact as meaningless.

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    Turkmenistan is rewarding women who have over eight children with $25, as well as free utilities, transportation, and dental care.

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    >>Israel and Palestine – Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed yesterday to resume talks under pressure from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Talks were suspended by Abbas due to an incursion by the Israeli army into Gaza, which left 125 people dead over 5 days. Human rights groups said yesterday that Israel’s blockade has downgraded Gaza’s humanitarian situation to its worst state since Israel’s occupation in 1967.

    >>Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador – The Organization of American States declared the Columbian raid against FARC rebels in Ecuador to be a violation of sovereignty, a measure intended to ease relations between Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

    >>Gazprom – Gazprom has agreed resume gas shipments to the Ukraine, after it agreed to settle a $600 million debt that occured after Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko refused to sign contracts negotiated by the President Viktor Yushchenko. Tymoshenko is both attempting to reduce Gazprom’s control of the Ukraine’s domestic gas market and exert political primacy over Yushchenko.

    >>Vatican – The Vatican will create an interfaith forum with Muslim leaders and scholars, intended to ease relations between the religions. The first of which, “Love of God, Love of Neighbor,” will be held in Rome in November and will likely be attended by the Pope. Relations between leadership of the two religions have been hindered since the Pope quoted a Bizantine emperor in a 2006 speech as saying that Islam was “evil and inhuman.” He later expressed regret that his remarks had been taken out of context but never apologized.

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    Conservative lion and founder of the National Review, William F. Buckley, Jr., died yesterday at age 82. If you want to avoid mispronouncing a leader’s name on national TV, you might want to watch this a few times.

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    >>Northern Iraq – A day after stating there would be no timetables for their withdrawal from northern Iraq, a senior Turkish official said today that Turkey would withdrawl within “three or four days,” just hours after U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates reiterated his desire that Turkey keep it short in a meeting with Turkish Minister of Defense Vecdi Gonul in Ankara.

    >>Uganda – The government’s rejection of a key rebel demand, that it work to get ICC war crimes charges against three Lord’s Resistance Army leaders dropped, is threatening once promising peace negotiations. Government officials suggest it is premature to work toward that end until the LRA had demobilised.

    >>Thailand – Deposed PM, and owner of the Manchester City Premier League Club, Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand today and immediately surrendered to immigration police to face corruption charges. Thaksin ally, Samak Sundarevej, is the current Prime Minister.

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    The French have made Terminator-style rubber out of urine, while the Americans were focusing on a wooden car that can travel 240mph.

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    >>Star Wars – The US Navy successfully hit an impaired satellite the size of a school bus that was falling to earth and potentially contained 453kg of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel. The missile was fired from a vessel off the west coast of Hawaii. The aim was to strike and disperse the contents of the fuel tank. The satellite flew 247km above the earth. The Pentagon denied that this was simply a pretext for a weapons exercise in the face of China’s unabashed test last year.

    >>Kenya – The Kenyan government has “more or less agreed on” the creation of a prime minister’s post, a key demand of the opposition and a possible breakthrough in the political crisis. Kofi Annan sees this as considerable progress. Negotiators return on Friday, when they are expected to ink the final deal. The stakes are high says the International Crisis Group in a new report.

    >>Bush’s African Tour – President Bush arrived in Liberia today to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman ever elected to head an African nation and a U.S. Medal of Freedom winner. UN peacekeepers provided security in advance of his visit. This completes President Bush’s five-nation tour of Africa, which also included stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ghana.

    Quote of the Day

    “The current uneasy calm in Kenya should not be misunderstood as a return to normalcy.”
    – International Crisis Group

    “We will continue waiting for the ‘Reflections of Comrade Fidel,’ which will be a powerful arsenal of ideas and guidance.”
    – as written in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper

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    Happy Valentine’s Day. Hamas is in love with its gunmen. I’m in love with the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk.

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    >>Malaysia – Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia has dissolved parliament, setting in motion a process that will result in new elections on March 8 (good overview of the stats). The elections will test the popularity of PM Abdullah and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as well as likely stoke ethnic tensions festering between the majority Malay ethnic group (about 60 percent of the populace) and the minority Chinese (about 25 percent and in control the business sector) and Indians. Reuters gives a nice rundown of the possible outcomes.

    >>Iraq – Iraq’s parliament passed three landmark bills, setting a budget (which pleases the Kurds), providing limited amnesty for detainees (which pleases the Sunnis), and setting the stage for provincial elections (which pleases the Shia). This legislation package had been a source of rancor, threatening to paralyze parliament, and represents 1 of the 18 political benchmarks set by the U.S.

    >>Pakistan – The NY Times is reporting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religious parties are losing influence in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, specifically the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan, and that this represents a national trend. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 18, and the violence continues. The Guardian offers some color on electioneering in the tribal areas.

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    >>Serbia – Nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has blocked plans for a Serbian-European political and economic agreement, suggesting that it was an attempt to make Serbia concede the independence of Kosovo. Boris Tadic, a pro-European moderate who was elected President of Serbia on Sunday, is part of Serbia’s governing coalition. The rift between Kostunica and Tadic threatens to dissolve that coaltion.

    >>Zimbabwe – The war veterans’ association, a militant group in Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, has threatened former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who is running for president against Robert Mugabe, by saying, “traitors should know Zanu-PF has a history of dealing harshly with their kind.” Makoni was also expelled from Zanu-PF yesterday.

    >>Food – The global commodities boom has significantly raised the price of food, straining both the budgets of the poor and the programs of those trying to help feed them. The World Food Programme’s costs by 70 percent over the last five years. The boom is also rekindling the debate over whether donor nations should continue to provide surplus food or simply provide funding to be used on the open market.

    >>Eritrea-Ethiopia – The UN fears that conflict could reignite between Ethiopia and Eritrea if 1,400 UN peacekeepers are forced to withdraw because the Eritrean government cut fuel supplies. Eritrea is attempting to apply pressure on the international community to force Ethiopian to withdraw from the border town of Badme. From 1998 to 2000, tens of thousands died in conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

    Quote of the day

    “With this blockage, certain politicians are in a way filing for a
    divorce before the marriage has yet even been agreed. I find that…rather regrettable.”
    – EU Commissioner Olli Rehn

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    The last Republican debate before Super Tuesday was held last night at the Reagan Library in California as Guiliani and Edwards drop out. Serbia also held it’s last televised debate before the presidential run-off on Sunday between incumbent and supporter of EU membership Boris Tadic and nationalist Tomislav Nikolic, who supports closer ties with Russia. Both oppose Kosovo’s independence.

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    >>Kenyan violence continues – A second opposition leader, David Kimutai Too, has been shot dead in Eldoret, overshadowing a second day of talks led by Kofi Annan. A local police chief, claims that Too was shot because of the discovery of his affair with the girlfriend of a local police officer and not connected to the ongoing violence, which top U.S. diplomat Jendayi Frazer has called “ethnic cleansing.” Either way, angry crowds have stormed the police station and Kikuyu are fleeing the Rift Valley town. At an AU summit in Ethiopia, commission chairman Alpha Oumar Konare urged African leaders to help difuse the crisis, as Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame has suggested that army intervention may be the only way forward.

    >>Canada troops in Afghanistan – Canadian PM Stephen Harper has demanded another 1,000 NATO troops be dispatched to the Kandahar region, or else the 2,500 Canadian troops already there will be pulled out. Meanwhile, a report by the former supreme allied commander of NATO, Lt. Col. James Jone, concluded that NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a “strategic stalemate.” And, a thousand Afghan infantry troops will be rushed to the battlefield half trained.

    >>PM Olmert survives report – The Winograd Commission’s report (full text) on the conduct of Israel’s leadership during the 2006 war in Lebanon was less damaging than expected, noting “serious failures” but also not blaming PM Olmert directly and even praising some of his key decisions. The brunt of the blame for what the report stated was a “great and grave missed opportunity” to decisively defeat Hezbollah was reserved for Israel’s military leadership, which the report suggests were too reliant on air power.

    >>North Korean nuclear deal – NK leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting Chinese official that he remains committed to the six party talks and implementing existing agreements. Meanwhile, capitalism trumps detente, as the first regular freight train service in a half century between North and South Korea has been cut because there simply isn’t enough cargo to ship.

    >>Iran: Lower or higher profile? – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran will produce nuclear energy by 2009. Ayatollah Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has announced a ban on public executions without his prior consent. Taking photos or film of an execution is also now verboten. Meanwhile, five convicts were hanged at Evin prison in near Tehran.

    >>Mr. Rose Apple Nose – Sign language interpreters are holding their noses to refer to Thailand’s new PM, Samak Sundaravej, but probably not for the reason you think.

    Harsh Headline of the Day
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    >>Jason Green, who works at an Australian crocodile farm, was attacked by a female of the species only to subsequently shot by a colleague trying to save him. Green survived and is now recuperating post surgery.

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    >>Egyptian authorities today began to stop the flow of an estimated 350,000 Palestinians who have entered from Gaza through 17 gaps blown in the border wall. According to at least one border guard, Hamas was responsible and had been weakening the wall for months using “oxy-acetylene cutting torches.

    >>In preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games, Beijing is cleansing both environmentally and socially. Prior to the August event, “problem” citizens, including prostitutes and the homeless, will be relocated. The Beijing Times has reported that the Chinese motor traffic during the games, pulling an estimated 1.65 million cars off the road. In the meantime, athletes are preparing face masks, trying special diets, and delaying their arrivals due to pollution.

    >>The European Commission proposed sweeping measures to reduce carbon emissions (20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020) and promote the use of renewable energy sources (20 percent of all power). Responsibilities have been suggested for individual nations, and some are none too happy.

    >>The WHO has created a database to keep tabs on avian flu strains collected around the world.

    Quote of the Day

    • “In my opinion boxers are probably the finest athletes in the world. But they didn’t think they could make it three rounds in Beijing.”
      -Frank Filiberto, a physician for the U.S. boxing team

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