AUSTRALIA - BRITAIN TERROR: Australian authorities have dropped terrorism charges against an Indian doctor accused of supporting last month's foiled car bomb attacks in Britain. Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions, Damian Bugg, withdrew the case against Mohamed Haneef today. Bugg said after a review of the case he determined a mistake had been made. Haneef, who had been in jail for four weeks, was freed from custody today while his immigration status is reviewed. Officials said Haneef gave his mobile phone SIM card (which stores phone numbers and data) to his relative Sabeel Ahmed, a suspect in the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow.
AFGHANISTAN - HOSTAGES: There is no immediate word on the fate of 22 remaining South Korean hostages held by the Taleban in Afghanistan after the latest negotiating deadline passed. A self-described Taleban spokesman said the Afghan government had until mid-day today to negotiate a deal to secure the hostages' freedom. The militants are demanding the release of imprisoned Taleban fighters. A top South Korean envoy is in Kabul to work with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on gaining the hostages' freedom. On Thursday, a woman identified as female hostage Lim Hyun-joo made a phone call to reporters, pleading for help in resolving the situation.
PAKISTAN MOSQUE: Hundreds of Islamist students in Pakistan have re-occupied Islamabad's Red Mosque, and prevented a government-appointed cleric from leading Friday prayers. The protesters - mostly former students of the mosque's seminary - threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The mosque reopened today for the first time since security forces stormed the complex to evict Islamist militants, following a deadly week-long standoff earlier this month. More than 100 people, including a top radical cleric (Abdul Rashid Ghazi), died during the siege of the mosque complex.
WORLD MARKETS: Asian stock markets plunged today after a major U.S. stock index suffered one of its worst declines of the year. Japan's key index, the Nikkei, sank more than two percent (or 418 points, to end the day at 17-thousand-284). Philippine stocks tumbled nearly four percent while share prices in Taipei plunged more than four percent. In the U.S. Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined more than two percent, or 312 points, to finish at 13-thousand-474 -- the second biggest drop of the year. Investors were concerned about high oil prices and a U.S. Commerce Department report that showed continued weakness in the U.S. housing market.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: International nuclear inspectors have arrived in China on their way to North Korea, where they will monitor the shutdown of the country's main nuclear facility. The six inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are due to fly from Beijing to Pyongyang on Saturday. Once in North Korea, they plan to meet with another team of inspectors who arrived there earlier this month. North Korea shut down five key nuclear facilities at its main Yongbyon complex earlier this month as part of a six-nation agreement reached in February to disable its nuclear weapons programs.
UN - EAST TIMOR: The United Nations has threatened to boycott a truth commission investigating violence during East Timor's break from Indonesia in 1999, if the commission recommends amnesty for crimes against humanity. A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the U.N. can not endorse or condone amnesties for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or gross violations of human rights. The spokesman says the U.N. will boycott the Commission of Truth and Friendship set up by East Timor and Indonesia unless it drops the option of amnesty.
INDONESIA FLOODS: Indonesian helicopters are dropping food and other aid to survivors of landslides and floods on the island of Sulawesi. Officials say relief efforts had been delayed by days of poor weather. But they say better weather today allowed operations to move forward. Officials say the floods and landslides killed at least 85 people and left 36-thousand homeless in Sulawesi, about 17-hundred kilometers northeast of the capital, Jakarta. Disaster officials say landslides buried entire villages, and flooding destroyed hundreds of homes. Environmental activists blame illegal logging and deforestation for making the soil loose and causing landslides.
FRANCE POL: French authorities say former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been placed under formal investigation for his suspected role in a plot to discredit Nicolas Sarkozy before he became president. Justice officials took the action today after Mr. de Villepin was interviewed by two investigating judges. The formal investigation is a first step toward possible criminal charges. Officials say the former prime minister is suspected of "complicity to make false accusations." The investigation stems from the so-called Clearstream affair in which French politicians were accused of illegally benefiting from foreign arms sales.
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