SOMALIA FIGHTING: Reports from Mogadishu say extensive fighting has broken out across the Somali capital. At least 30 people have been killed in renewed clashes between Islamic militias and an alliance of secular warlords. Thousands of civilians are fleeing their homes in Mogadishu. A VOA correspondent in Mogadishu says on Thursday's fighting began as a battle for control of a central hotel, then quickly escalated and spread throughout the city. Fighters are attacking each other with mortars, antiaircraft guns, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The city's Medina hospital says it is treating scores of wounded civilians. Many victims were hit by shrapnel from mortar shells that landed in residential areas. Nearly 150 people were killed in Mogadishu during several recent days of fighting that ended in a tenuous ceasefire.
EAST TIMOR: A team of Australian
commandos has arrived in East Timor's capital Dili to secure the city's airport as fighting rages for a third day between government forces and disgruntled former soldiers. At least two people were killed today in widespread gunbattles around Dili and elsewhere, prompting foreigners and residents to start fleeing the city. A South Korean citizen caught in the crossfire was shot in the neck and rushed to a hospital. Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the initial force of 150 Australian commandos will move quickly to secure the area around Dili's airport before the arrival of more peacekeeping forces. Canberra plans to send 13-hundred troops to East Timor in response to Dili's appeal for help in quelling an uprising by hundreds of former soldiers. Malaysia is also reported to have agreed to send peacekeepers.
PALESTINIAN POL: Rival Palestinian factions began a "national dialogue" on Thursday aimed at bridging differences that have led to increasingly violent clashes and triggered fears of civil war. The two-day meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah is chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction is locked in a battle with supporters of the Hamas-led government for control of security forces. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is participating via a videophone link from the Gaza Strip, because of Israeli travel restrictions. The meeting is also expected to focus on the deteriorating economic conditions the Palestinians are facing. Foreign donors have suspended aid to the Hamas-led government because of the Islamic group's refusal to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept Israeli-Palestinian interim peace accords. Mr. Abbas is expected to urge Hamas to moderate its policies and agree to peace talks with Israel.
IRAN NUCLEAR: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says top diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany have made progress on a strategy to deal with Iran's nuclear program. But she says more talks are needed. The major powers have been discussing a package of incentives for Iran to give up its nuclear activity, along with defined punitive actions if it refuses. Rice acknowledged that a closed-door meeting in London of senior officials from the so-called P-Five Plus One grouping ended without an agreement Wednesday. She said further talks -- possibly at ministerial level -- will be needed. Secretary Rice discussed the London meeting at a joint news conference in Washington with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed el-Baradei. Western powers suspect Iran is planning to make a nuclear weapon. Although Tehran denies this, el-Baradei said it is important for Iran to take measures to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
RUSSIA - EU: Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with European Union officials on Thursday for talks expected to focus on Russia's reliability as a key energy supplier. European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso and Austrian Chanchellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency, are among those taking part in the meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian and European officials say energy will be at the top of the agenda. Many European leaders called on the E.U. to look for alternate energy sources when Russia -- a major supplier of gas to Europe -- cut supplies to Ukraine in January over a price dispute. The gas shut off caused shortages in several European countries. The E.U. says the meeting will also examine a new framework agreement with Russia. The current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, signed in 1997, expires next year.
CHINA - US - MILITARY: Beijing has strongly criticized a U.S. government report that says China's expanding military could one day compete with Washington and pose a threat to other Asian countries. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the report exaggerates China's military strength, and reflects what he called a "Cold War mentality" on Washington's part. The spokesman also accused the U.S. of interfering with China's internal affairs and endangering international relations. In a report published Tuesday, the U.S. Defense Department said the pace of Chinese defense spending indicates Beijing's military goals go beyond its relationship with Taiwan. China has threatened military action against Taiwan if the self-ruled island declares independence. The annual Pentagon study also said China has increased the number of short-tange ballistic missiles positioned opposite Taiwan. The report estimates the number of Chinese missiles at 710 to 790, up from last year.
US - NOKOR: A senior U.S. diplomat says Washington will not offer any new concessions to North Korea to persuade it to rejoin multi-nation talks on its nuclear program. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said in Beijing Thursday he does not believe Washington needs to make any changes to a tentative agreement reached with Pyongyang at the last round of talks in September. The agreement called for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid, security guarantees and diplomatic relations. Hill, who met today with China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, says North Korea is still not prepared to resume the six-party negotiations. Washington has sought Beijing's help in enticing Pyongyang to come back to the table.
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