U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Brussels today (Friday) to press America's NATO allies for more money to battle the resurgent Taleban in Afghanistan. U.S. officials say Rice will brief NATO foreign ministers on a newly-proposed 10-point-six billion-dollar U.S. aid package for Afghanistan, and ask NATO for a similar commitment. The U.S. aid is intended to bolster Afghan security forces facing increased fighting by the Taleban, which U.S. officials expect to mount a new offensive in a few months (when spring arrives).
US-IRAN-IRAQ: President Bush is reported to have authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq. Citing government officials, "The Washington Post" says the move is part of a strategy to weaken Iran's influence in the region and to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear activities. The report says that for more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have been secretly detaining suspected Iranian agents, holding them for a few days, taking DNA samples as well as photographs and fingerprints.
LEBANON: Authorities in Lebanon lifted a curfew on Beirut today
(Friday), after a day of violence between supporters and opponents of the government killed at least three people and wounded scores of others. Some shops and businesses opened, but schools and universities across the city remained closed. Thursday's fighting began in the cafeteria on the main campus of Beirut Arab University between pro-government Sunni Muslims and Shi'ites who back Hezbollah. The violence spread to the rest of the campus and into the streets. Lebanon's army was brought in to restore order.
INDIA-REPUBLIC DAY: India is celebrating its 58th Republic Day today (Friday), with military parades in the nation's capital and various state capitals. Security forces are on high alert across the country for possible insurgent attacks during the festivities, marking the founding of the Indian republic in 1950. Russian President Vladimir Putin is the guest of honor for this year's celebrations in New Delhi, where he joined Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Abdul Kalam in reviewing a military parade.
SOKOR-NOKOR: South Korea's unification minister has denied that
Seoul's investments in North Korea are diverted by Pyongyang to develop nuclear weapons. Lee Jae-joung was responding to critics who say North Korea is exploiting two joint venture projects with the South to help fund its weapons program. Lee says the accusation is based on assumption, rather than firm evidence. The South Korean-funded projects include an industrial complex and a tourist resort in North Korea. Lee visited the Kaesong industrial zone Wednesday and says the joint ventures are necessary to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula.
JAPAN-CHINA: Beijing says Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Japan in April to discuss improving relations that were strained under former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Wen will become the first Chinese leader to visit Japan since former premier Zhu Rongji in 2000. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said (Thursday) both sides should work to make the upcoming visit a success. He also urged Japan to resolve what he called "sensitive" issues to maintain the recent improvement in relations.
CHINA-3 GORGES DAM: China's state-run news agency, Xinhua,
says government auditors have found 37 million dollars missing from funds earmarked for resettling people displaced by China's giant Three Gorges Dam (in Hubei province and Chongqing municipality). The auditors say misused money went mainly to construction projects other than housing for the displaced residents. The audit report says diverted funds were also used for such non-authorized purposes as administrative expenses, running enterprises, balancing budgets, buying houses, and interest payments.
VIETNAM-SOCCER SCANDAL: Seven former members of Vietnam's national soccer team have been convicted of fixing the result of a match against Burma in exchange for payments from a gambling ring. A court in Ho Chi Minh City delivered the guilty verdicts today (Friday) against the seven men and an eighth former soccer player from the domestic V-League. The court ruled that the Vietnamese players took bribes to keep their margin of victory to one goal in a match against Burma at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games in Manila. Vietnam won the match 1-0.
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