ISRAEL - LEBANON: Israeli warplanes continue to pound southern Lebanon, after the Israeli government decided to increase air and artillery strikes against Hezbollah guerrillas while not expanding riskier ground operations. Lebanese security officials say Israeli aircraft fired missiles into Nabatiyeh town and several nearby villages early today (Friday), killing at least six people and wounding many others. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security Cabinet authorized the army to call up 30-thousand reserve soldiers. Defense Minister Amir Peretz says the Jewish state is preparing for any possible developments in the fighting.
LEBANON- DIPLOMACY: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she remains ready to return to the Middle East to help bring an end to the conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas. But she did not say when she would make that trip. Speaking in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur today (Friday), Rice said first she wants to confer with top U.S. envoys who are holding talks in the region. Meanwhile, President Bush is to discuss the Mideast crisis with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House (today/Friday). A British spokesman says Mr. Blair is planning to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution as early as next week to defuse the crisis.
ASEAN - ANTI US PROTEST: Hundreds of anti-U.S. protesters in Malaysia have marched to the entrance of the convention center where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is attending a regional security forum. The demonstrators walked past riot police stationed outside the Kuala Lumpur complex and reached the front doors, demanding the U.S. force Israel to stop its offensive in Lebanon. The protesters staged a two-hour sit-in at the entrance after police prevented them from entering the building. The anti-war demonstrators also burned American flags and an effigy of Secretary Rice.
LAOS - BIRD FLU: Laos has reported an outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus among chickens on a poultry farm near the capital, Vientiane - the second outbreak in the country this year. Officials say the virus killed about 25-hundred chickens at a farm in Xaythany district (25 kilometers south of Vientiane) last week. Authorities have since culled thousands of remaining chickens at the farm. The same chicken farm suffered a bird flu outbreak in early 2004 as the virus was sweeping through Southeast Asia. The last case of bird flu in Laos occurred in May when the virus was found in a single duck at another farm near the capital. Earlier this week, bird flu resurfaced in neighboring Thailand, killing a teenage boy.
IRAQ: The U.S Defense Department has ordered several thousand soldiers to stay in Iraq for up to four months beyond their one-year assignment, which was about to end. Officials said Thursday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the request from commanders in Iraq to extend the deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, which has about 35-hundred troops. The decision comes one day after President Bush promised visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S will provide more troops to try to stem the escalating violence in Baghdad.
NOKOR - FLOODS: Humanitarian groups say recent floods and landslides have killed at least 154 people in North Korea. Reports indicate at least 23-thousand homes have been destroyed, leaving at least nine-thousand families homeless. In Pyongyang, the heavy rains caused the Daedong river to flood for the first time in 16 years. North Korean officials have said the flooding has badly damaged the country's agricultural sector. The damage could further threaten Pyongyang's food supply.
NOKOR - ASEAN: Diplomats attending a Southeast Asian security forum in Malaysia say North Korea has threatened to quit the annual gathering if the organization criticizes Pyongyang over its missile tests. Officials at the talks say North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun made the threat today (Friday) during the forum's opening session in Kuala Lumpur.
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