IRAQ: Iraqi officials say the death toll from a series of car bombings in Baghdad's Shi'ite district of Sadr City has risen to more than 200, as mourners began burying the victims. Doctors say many of the more than 250 people wounded were in critical condition following Thursday's coordinated blasts. Hundreds of mourners beat their chests, chanted and cried today (Friday) as they walked behind vehicles carrying the caskets of those killed in the deadliest attack since the Iraq war began in 2003.
Meanwhile, a Shi'ite member of Iraq's parliament says followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will quit the national unity government if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets with President Bush in Jordan next week. Parliamentarian Qusai Abdul-Wahab issued a statement on behalf of the group today (Friday). Al-Sadr's followers hold six Cabinet seats and have 30 members in the 275-member parliament.
PAKISTAN-CHINA: Pakistan and China have signed a five-year free trade agreement aimed at increasing business between the two allies. The agreement was signed today (Friday) in Islamabad during a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf. Officials from both sides say the new pact could boost trade between China and Pakistan by several billion dollars a year.
TAIWAN POL: Opposition lawmakers in Taiwan's parliament have failed to win approval for a recall motion aimed at removing President Chen Shui-bian from office. Today's (Friday's) motion won 118 votes, short of the 146 needed for it to pass. The motion would have authorized a referendum on whether Mr. Chen should remain in office. The motion had little chance of passing. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party's continued support of Mr. Chen means that opposition members cannot collect the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament.
THAILAND-MARTIAL LAW: Thailand's military-installed government says it may lift martial law before the end of the year. Defense Minister General Boonrawd Somtas' comment today (Friday) was the latest in a series of recent government statements on when the restrictions will be lifted. Earlier this month, interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said it is time to consider lifting martial law in parts of the country.
A former Russian spy who was a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin has died in a London hospital of suspected poisoning in a case that is baffling doctors and police. A hospital spokesman said Alexander Litvinenko died late Thursday. The 43-year-old Litvinenko became seriously ill on November first, and had been in the hospital since the 17th. Doctors say they are not able to determine the cause of death, but have ruled out poisoning by the heavy metal thallium or radioactive substances they initially suspected.
UN-BURMA-BELARUS: A United Nations panel has criticized the nations of Burma and Belarus for human rights abuses. The General Assembly committee on Thursday passed a resolution that says Burma's government refused to investigate widespread human rights violations such as summary executions, torture, forced labor, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution noted attacks by the military on villages in Kayin state and other ethnic provinces. It also criticized Burma's government for the harassment and arrest of student leaders, and the continuing house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy.
JAPAN-SOKOR-BIRD FLU: Japan has suspended poultry imports from South Korea after authorities there confirmed an outbreak of bird flu among poultry. Japanese officials said today (Friday) they will also require people arriving from South Korea to disinfect their shoes when entering Japan.
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