US - LAOS - PROTEST: Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a California courthouse Friday to demand the release of prominent ethnic Hmong leader in the U.S. accused of plotting to overthrow the Lao government. Demonstrators, mostly from the Hmong community in California, were seen carrying signs that read "General Vang Pao is a hero" and "release him" at the protest in the city of Fresno. Vang Pao, a 77-year-old former Lao general, was among 10 men charged earlier this week with conspiracy to topple Lao leaders. A criminal complaint filed in federal court Monday says the defendants attempted to recruit mercenaries and obtain a variety of weapons.
BUSH - EUROPE: President Bush held talks with Pope Benedict at the Vatican today as part of his visit to Rome. The U.S. president's audience with the pontiff was his first since the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005. Pope Benedict asked Mr. Bush about the outcome of the recent G8 summit, including discussions on Africa and HIV/AIDS relief efforts. In private talks, the two men were also expected to discuss the war in Iraq, which was strongly opposed Benedict's predecessor, the late John Paul the Second. Mr. Bush and his wife Laura began the day with a brief visit with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at his official residence.
IRAQ - TURKEY: Iraq's Foreign Ministry said it has summoned Turkey's top diplomat in Baghdad to protest cross-border shelling into northern Iraq. A Foreign Ministry statement today said the bombardment had started large fires and caused serious damage. The Iraqi statement did not give details. Turkey has been building up its forces along the border with Iraq. The buildup is causing international concern Ankara might decide to sent troops into northern Iraq to pursue separatist Kurdish rebels who use bases in Iraq to attack Turkish targets.
IRAQ: The U.S. military in Iraq says coalition forces killed five terrorists and detained 11 others during operations targeting al-Qaida in Iraq fighters today. A military statement said U.S.-led forces conducted raids near Fallujah, north of Taji and in western Baghdad. The military also says an attack on a detention facility at Camp Bucca killed six civilian detainees and wounded more than 50 others today. Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities say a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed at least two people and wounded seven others in Baghdad. Attacks across Iraq killed more than 80 people Friday.
US JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The highest-ranking U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, is stepping down because of concerns about handling of the war in Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert Gates startled Pentagon reporters Friday by announcing that a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will succeed Pace, in order to avoid "contentious" hearings in the U.S. Senate about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pace, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, will retire in September, and be replaced by Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations for the past two years.
JAPAN - TAIWAN - SHRINE: Taiwan's former President Lee Teng-hui is accusing China and South Korea of overreacting to issues surrounding a controversial war shrine in Japan. Speaking in Tokyo today, Mr. Lee said that both countries "invented" criticism over the Yasukuni war shrine, "because they could not deal with problems in their own country." He said there is no reason for Japan to face criticism by foreign governments, as it is a natural thing to honor people who died for their country. Mr. Lee visited the shrine Thursday, sparking condemnation from Beijing.
G8 SUMMIT SDBR - NOKOR: The Group of Eight industrialized nations has urged North Korea to abandon all of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. G-8 leaders concluding a summit in Germany Friday issued a statement condemning the nuclear test that North Korea conducted last October. The statement called the test a "clear threat to international peace and security." It also called for North Korea to implement measures outlined in a February nuclear disarmament agreement. North Korea agreed during six-nation talks to shut down its nuclear reactor. However, the government has refused to take action until a banking dispute is resolved.
US - NOKOR - NUCLEAR: The U.S. negotiator in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program says Russia is trying to help end a financial dispute that is holding up the disarmament process. Christopher Hill said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday (on the U.S. cable channel C-SPAN) he believes the international community will find a solution to the financial dispute and is not worried about it in the long run. North Korea has refused to shut down its main nuclear reactor as promised in February. Pyongyang is insisting that it first receive 25 million dollars that were frozen in a Macau bank after the United States said the funds were tied to alleged money laundering.
SPACE SHUTTLE: Astronauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis will conduct a video inspection of the shuttle's outer hull today as it orbits the Earth. Atlantis lifted off Friday evening from the U.S. space agency NASA's launch center in Florida. The flight had been delayed for three months, after a hail storm damaged the foam insulation on the shuttle's external fuel tank. The tank was covered with thousands of patches to cover the dents caused by the storm. Shuttle program director Wayne Hale says the tank held up well during launch.
US - BBG CHAIRMAN: The U.S. government agency that supervises VOA and other U.S. international broadcasters, has a new chairman. James Glassman was sworn in Friday to head the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The journalist and author has also been a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a public-policy study group in Washington. He has held senior posts at several American news-media companies, specializing in economic and political coverage. Glassman has also served on the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, a commission mandated by Congress.
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