BUSH - BLAIR: U.S President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have acknowledged making mistakes in the Iraq war, but pledged continued support for democracy in Iraq. During news conference at the White House Thursday, the two leaders said U.S. and British troops will remain in Iraq until it can "govern, sustain and defend itself." Both say there have been disagreements over the Iraq invasion and mistakes made during the war. But they also hailed Iraq's achievement of democratic rule amid continued terrorist attacks and sectarian violence.
President Bush expressed regret for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and some of his earlier tough-talking comments. Mr. Blair said the "de-Baathification" - the clearing out of Saddam loyalists - was badly handled. He also said coalition forces should have anticipated the determination of insurgents to try to derail Iraq's democratic process. Both leaders declined to set a time-table for reducing the level of coalition troops.
IRAQ: Iraqi police say a car bomb has
exploded in Baghdad on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 30 others. The latest incident of violence occurs as Iraq's newly installed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struggles to fill the posts of defense and interior ministers - the Cabinet positions key to the country's security. Mr. Maliki has said Iraqi forces will be able to take control of security around the country within a year and a half. In another development, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee, is preparing to address his forces in Iraq to re-inforce the ideals, values and standards of U.S. Marines. The U.S. military is investigating allegations that Marines have killed at least 16 Iraqi civilians in two separate incidents.
PALESTINIAN POL: The governing Palestinian group Hamas says it has withdrawn its militia from the streets of the Gaza Strip to avoid further bloody clashes with the rival Fatah faction. A Hamas commander said his troops withdrew from all locations on Friday as ordered by the Interior Ministry. Hamas deployed a force of about three thousand men in Gaza earlier this month, triggering deadly clashes with Fatah activists loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two factions are holding talks to reduce tensions and bridge political differences between them. On Thursday, Mr. Abbas urged Hamas to accept within 10 days a proposal for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, or face a referendum on the idea. In another development, Israel says it has authorized the transfer of light weapons to Palestinian guards protecting
President Abbas. But aides to Mr. Abbas said they were not aware of the Israeli decision.
NEPAL PEACE TALKS: Nepal's government and Maoist rebels have begun peace talks aimed at ending a decade-old insurgency. Officials say government and rebel negotiators met late Friday at a golf resort on the outskirts of the capital, Katmandu. The meeting got under way just hours after the two sides agreed to hold peace talks. Negotiators from both sides say the discussions are expected to prepare for a meeting between rebel chief Prachanda and Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. Before entering Friday's meeting, Nepalese Home Minister Krishna Prasad Situala said he was confident the talks would be successful. Hopes for an end to Nepal's insurgency have increased since a new multi-party government took power last month, following weeks of street protests against King Gyanendra.
EAST TIMOR: The first contingent of 13-hundred Australian peacekeepers have fanned out across East Timor's capital, Dili, to stop clashes between dismissed soldiers and government troops. Sporadic gunfire was reported late Friday in the capital, but reports from the scene say Australian and Malaysian peacekeepers brought an uneasy calm to the city. Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said on Friday (to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) that rules of engagement had been agreed with East Timorese leaders. He says Australian peacekeepers "will work with the East Timorese authorities to disarm the rebel and rogue elements." Nine people died and at least 27 were wounded Thursday when soldiers opened fire on unarmed police. Violence began a month ago, when some 600 dismissed soldiers - 40 percent of East Timor's military - went on strike to protest alleged favoritism among the ranks. The rioting started a series of battles between the ex-soldiers and government forces.
US - NOKOR: The United States chief envoy to the North Korea nuclear talks says Washington is still committed to the six-nation talks, and is urging Pyongyang to resume negotiations. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill made the comment on Friday following a brief meeting in Seoul with South Korea's chief delegate to the talks. Hill was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying Washington is not seeing enough signs that North Korea is exploring all
possibilities to end the dispute. While in Beijing Thursday, Hill said the United States will not offer any new concessions to North Korea to persuade it to rejoin the multi-nation talks. At the last round of talks in September, the six parties reached an agreement that called for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid, security guarantees and diplomatic relations.
UN - BURMA: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is appealing to Burma's government to free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose current term of house arrest expires on Saturday. In a statement issued on Friday, Mr. Annan said that he is relying on Burmese leader General Than Shwe to "do the right thing." He said her release is necessary to facilitate the democratic progress. Malaysia's Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, whose country is the current chairman of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the opposition leader poses no threat to the country's stability, and that it is in Burma's best interest to release her.
CAMBODIA - POL: Cambodia's parliament has voted to eliminate prison sentences for defamation, following accusations by the international community that the criminal offense was used to punish government critics. Friday's amendment makes the offense punishable only by fines. Over the past year, Prime Minister Hun Sen filed defamation suits against several people, mainly for criticizing a border demarcation treaty he signed with Vietnam last October. The cases sparked international condemnation. The Cambodian leader eventually dropped the suits and called for the offense to be decriminalized. The most high-profile defamation case involved Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was recently reinstated to parliament.