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Aide Says Former Prime Minister Sharif to Return to Pakistan Soon


PAKISTAN: An aide to Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif says the exiled leader is set to return to Pakistan within days. Officials in Mr. Sharif's (Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz) party say he will discuss his plans today with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia -- where Mr. Sharif lives in exile. Mr. Sharif has been an outspoken critic of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, and he has urged Pakistanis to rise up against the president. General Musharraf ousted Mr. Sharif in 1999 in a military coup.

COMMONWEALTH - PAKISTAN: Pakistan says its suspension from the 53-nation Commonwealth bloc of former British colonies is unjustified. The Commonwealth voted to suspend the South Asian country on Thursday because Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has not lifted emergency rule. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement today saying the decision is disappointing because it says the bloc failed to take conditions in Pakistan into account. The ministry said it has asked the Commonwealth to send a delegation to Pakistan to assess conditions in the country.

INDIA - BLASTS: Indian police say a series of near simultaneous blasts rocked courthouses in three cities in Uttar Pradesh state today, killing at least 10 people. Officials have not given figures for the number of people wounded in the explosions in the northern cities of Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad. An official in Uttar Pradesh (Brij Lal) said seven were killed in the deadliest blast in Varanasi. India's junior home minister (Sriprakash Jaiswal) said he believes extremists might have planned the attacks in order to spread terror.

LEBANON POL: Lebanon could descend further into a political crisis today if rival Lebanese factions do not resolve a year-long power struggle and agree on a candidate for president. French, Italian and Spanish foreign ministers have so far failed in their efforts to mediate between the bitterly divided political rivals and conclude an agreement before midnight. That is when the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud ends. But sources close to the talks predicted a parliamentary session scheduled for later today to vote for Mr. Lahoud's successor probably will be canceled.

AUSTRALIA - ELECTION: Australian Prime Minister John Howard is warning voters that Australia will fundamentally change if his 11-year government is voted out of office in Saturday's election. Mr. Howard appealed to voters today, saying that if they think the country is heading in the right direction, they should not put that at risk by changing the government. The prime minister and his conservative ruling party face opposition Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who -- according to public opinion polls -- may win on Saturday.

NORTH KOREA - POL: Media in South Korea are reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has appointed his brother-in-law to the powerful post of chief of internal security. Jang Song Thaek was once considered to be one of Mr. Kim's closest aides, but he was ousted from the country's inner circles in 2004. Officials are not saying why Jang is now being offered a powerful post. Jang previously had been seen as a possible successor to the North Korean leader. At the time he disappeared from the political scene in 2004, reports said he was critical of the country's economic policy.

MONGOLIA - POL: Mongolia's parliament has elected ruling party chief Sanj Bayar as the country's new prime minister. The 51-year-old lawyer received nearly unanimous approval Thursday from lawmakers in the 76-seat parliament. Bayar has promised to fight corruption in Mongolia since being named head of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party last month. The party leads a coalition government that has a narrow parliamentary majority. Mongolia's previous prime minister, Miyegomba Enkhbold, resigned after losing the support of ruling party members. He had been in office since January 2006.

BLACK FRIDAY: Retail department stores across the United States are hoping for large crowds today, the first day of the annual Christmas shopping season. Commonly known as "Black Friday," the day after the annual Thanksgiving Day celebration brings out massive numbers of shoppers frantically looking for discount sales or a chance to buy the latest toy or electronic game. But in recent years, many department stores have opened on Thanksgiving Day itself, or in the pre-dawn hours of "Black Friday." This season, retailers are hoping across the board price cuts will attract consumers worried about the current state of the U.S. economy, which as been battered by a slumping housing market and rising oil and gas prices.

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