LEBANON POL: Thousands of supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group and its pro-Syrian allies are gathering in central Beirut for a massive protest aimed at bringing down the pro-western government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah Thursday called on Lebanese to turn out in large numbers for peaceful demonstrations to be followed by an indefinite sit-in protest. Lebanese army troops and police have cordoned off the prime minister's office compound in downtown Beirut and closed all roads leading to the area.
IRAQ: Iraqi security officials say at least five people were killed and
dozens wounded in car bomb blasts and other attacks in Baghdad today (Friday). Separately, the U.S. military says coalition forces killed two insurgents and detained 27 suspects in multiple raids targeting al-Qaida terrorists in and around the Iraqi capital. On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces will be ready to take over security responsibility from the U.S. -led coalition in June next year.
PHILIPPINES - STORM: Officials in the Philippines say landslides and heavy rains triggered by a powerful typhoon have killed at least 146 people, with the death toll expected to rise. A large number of people died in villages near Mount Mayon volcano in Albay province after a mudslide covered the area. Mount Mayon is some 350 kilometers southeast of the capital, Manila. Authorities say they fear the death toll in the area may rise. President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the military to help with relief efforts.
SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan officials are blaming Tamil Tiger rebels for
a suicide bomb attack that targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying the country's defense secretary. Officials say Gothabaya Rajapakse, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, was not injured in today's (Friday's) attack in Colombo. A soldier and the bomber were killed and at least 14 others were wounded in the blast. The attack comes just days after the Tamil rebels said they were resuming their fight for an independent homeland instead of autonomy from Colombo.
CHINA - US: A researcher for "The New York Times" serving a three year prison sentence in China on fraud charges says a court has rejected his appeal. Zhao Yan's lawyer (Guan Anping) says the Beijing High Court upheld a lower court verdict today (Friday). He says the trial process was unfair as he was not allowed to produce evidence. Zhao was convicted of fraud in August, but was acquitted of the more serious charge of revealing state secrets. The charges against Zhao stemmed from an article in the U.S. newspaper, "The New York Times," that correctly predicted former President Jiang Zemin would resign as head of the country's armed forces.
WORLD AIDS DAY - ASIA: The World Health Organization is
warning that the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic in Asia could worsen if governments fail to step up efforts to stop the spread of the virus. The U.N. health agency says that drug use, unsafe paid sex and unsafe sex between men are driving the spread of new infections in Asia, where more than eight-million people have H.I.V./AIDS. It warns that the number is rising. W.H.O. officials say half of those infected this year in China contracted HIV through unprotected sex. China says the number of H.I.V. infections jumped around 30-percent compared with a year ago. Experts also worry about the spread of AIDS in isolated Burma, and in Vietnam, where the number of people with H.I.V. has doubled since 2000. In Indonesia, health officials are warning that H.I.V. cases could rise to half a million people in four years, from about 200-thousand today.
US - STORM: A major snowstorm has blown across parts of the United States, grounding hundreds of flights, closing schools and coating highways with snow and ice. U.S. weather forecasters say the storm spread across an area stretching from Texas and Oklahoma to Michigan Thursday, and a blizzard warning was posted in parts of Oklahoma. Officials have issued a winter storm watch for parts of northern Indiana, southern Michigan and southeast Wisconsin.
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