Iraq Certifies Legislative Election Results: Election officials in Iraq have certified results of the December 15th legislative poll, confirming the near majority of parliament seats won by Shiite religious parties. The announcement today (Friday) confirmed initial results issued last month that gave 128 seats to the dominant Shi'ite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. The Kurdish Allliance won 53 seats and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front took 44 seats in the 275-member parliament. Under Iraq's constitution, the new parliament should convene within the next 15 days.
Thousands In Malaysia Stage Anti-Cartoon March: Thousands of Muslims marched in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, today (Friday) in a continuation of protests against controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Police say about two thousand protesters marched from a mosque to the nearby Danish embassy chanting slogans against Israel and the West.
The protest coincided with a government-imposed a ban on circulating cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that first appeared in a Danish newspaper. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told an international conference that the Muslim world and the West must to stop demonizing each other and "accept one another as equals."
U.N. Chief Urges Iran to Suspend Nuclear Activities:
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, and move ahead in negotiations with Russia and European Union powers on the issue. Russia has offered to provide Iran with nuclear fuel if Tehran suspends its enrichment program. Western countries accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The U.N. chief said it is important that no steps are taken that would escalate what he called the "already tense situation."
Pakistan Heightens Security After Deadly Attack During Ashura: Security has been heightened in northwestern Pakistan after a suspected suicide bomber killed 23 people during observances on a Muslim holy day. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao says tensions remain high, but that both Sunni and Shi'ite clerics are urging calm. He says a curfew has been imposed and checkpoints set up.
Thursday's attack in Hangu, about 200 kilometers from the capital, also injured more than 40 people participating in the festival of Ashura. Army re-inforcements were deployed after angry Shi'ite mobs torched cars and stores. Four other people were killed when gunmen opened fire on a minibus on the outskirts of town.
Roadside Bombs Kill Eight Afghan Troops: Officials in Afghanistan say roadside bombs have killed eight Afghan soldiers and wounded at least seven others. The first bomb exploded shortly after midnight as a convoy of troops was returning from an operation in eastern Kunar province on the border with Pakistan. The blast killed two soldiers and wounded at least two others. Hours later, a convoy sent to their aid was hit by another bomb and six soldiers were killed. At least five others were wounded.
Exiled Cambodian Opposition Leader Returns Home: Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has returned home from more than a year of self-imposed exile, saying he hopes to put differences with Prime Minister Hun Sen behind them. Sam Rainsy was greeted at Phnom Penh International Airport today (Friday) by more than one thousand cheering supporters. He told the crowd he favors dialogue, and would like to meet with the prime minister. In a surprise move last week, Sam Rainsy recanted his accusation. Hun Sen accepted and asked the king (Norodom Sihamoni) to grant the amnesty that allowed Sam Rainsy to return.
Indonesia Says Woman Died of Bird Flu; Azerbaijan Finds Infected Birds: Indonesian officials say one woman has died after local tests showed she had the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus. They say a second women suspected of having the virus is in critical condition in a Jakarta hospital. Elsewhere, health officials in Azerbaijan have confirmed the H5N1 strain in dead birds from the Caspian sea coast. Bird flu has killed nearly 90 people in southeast Asia, China and Turkey since 2003.
South Korea Appoints New Chief
of North Korea Policy: South Korea has formally appointed a new chief of North Korea policy. Speaking today (Friday) in Seoul, South Korea's new Unification Minister, Lee Jong-seok, said economic cooperation is the key to getting the North and South to trust each other. He also said he does not rule out an eventual visit to the South by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The appointment follows two days of intense questioning by lawmakers this week, during which Lee brushed aside opposition accusations that he was too pro-North Korea. Lee previously served as the deputy chief of President Roh Moo-hyun's National Security Council. Lee takes his new position amid a stalemate in the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program.
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