US - BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Federal transportation officials are heading to (the midwestern U.S. city of) Minneapolis, Minnesota to investigate Wednesday's bridge collapse that killed at least seven people and injured 60 others. One person drowned when the eight lane (Interstate 35-West) bridge broke into large sections and plunged 20 meters into the Mississippi River during the evening rush hour. Officials say at least 50 vehicles are submerged in the water within the wreckage. Emergency crews have resumed the search for more victims from the disaster after operations were halted at nightfall.
US - MIDEAST: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says an international peace conference that President Bush has proposed for later this year can "really advance Palestinian statehood." Rice was speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah today. She said she believes there should a "deepening of the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis on all of the issues." She added that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told her that he is ready to discuss "fundamental issues" leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
IRAQ - UN: The United States and Britain have circulated a new draft resolution among members of the United Nations Security Council, proposing an expanded role for the world body in Iraq. The draft circulated late Wednesday calls for an extension by one year the mandate of the existing U.N. Mission in Iraq. The current mandate expires next week (August 10). The draft proposes to authorize the U.N. to facilitate "regional dialogue, including on issues of border security, energy, and refugees." It also calls for the U.N. to "advise, support, and assist" in the review of the Iraqi constitution, in implementing its provisions, as well as developing a process to resolve internal disputes.
AFGHANISTAN HOSTAGES: South Korea and the United States have agreed not to use force to free the 21 remaining South Korean hostages held by the Taleban in Afghanistan. South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte discussed the hostage issue in Manila today (Thursday -- on the sidelines of an Asian security conference). A South Korean official said the two sides "ruled out" the possibility of military operations and agreed to "mobilize all means" to safely resolve the crisis. A delegation of South Korean lawmakers is traveling to the United States to persuade Washington to help end the hostage standoff.
ASEAN: Asian foreign ministers have wrapped up their annual security meeting, at which they discussed terrorism, human rights and other concerns. The 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations held talks in the Philippines throughout the week with top envoys from 17 other nations, including China, the United States and the European Union. ASEAN named former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan as the group's next secretary general today. ASEAN leaders will confirm Surin's five-year term at their November summit in Singapore.
CHINA - US TOYS: A U.S. toy-maker is recalling one-and-a-half million Chinese-made toys because of concerns their paint contains too much lead. Fisher-Price says it is pulling 967-thousand plastic toys off U.S. shelves. Another 533-thousand are being recalled internationally. The precaution includes around 80 types of toys have been sold in the United States since May. (They include the popular Big Bird, Elmo, and Dora the Explorer characters). The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is advising people to take any suspect toys away from children and contact the company.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: A U.S. envoy says the United States and North Korea have agreed to honor their commitments under a six-nation agreement on disarming North Korea's nuclear programs. Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator on Pyongyang's nuclear program, says he met briefly with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun Wednesday on the sidelines of an Asian security meeting in Manila. Hill told reporters today that he and Pak agreed to work very hard at the next six-nation meeting later this month.
VIETNAM - ASSEMBLY: Vietnam's National Assembly has approved a smaller cabinet with the task of pushing forward economic reforms. The legislature reduced the number of cabinet ministers today from 26 to 22, while adding two new deputy prime ministers. The Assembly re-elected 12 ministers, including three deputy prime ministers, and elected a new central bank chief and nine new ministers. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung says the government will work to correct bureaucratic weaknesses and push administrative reform. He also pledged to improve social conditions while expanding the economy.
SOUTHEAST ASIA FLOODS: Relief teams in India and Bangladesh are struggling to reach millions of people stranded in massive flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains. Worst hit areas are India's northeastern Assam state and the two northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Indian officials say the floods have killed at least 120 people in the three states and affected the lives of more than 10-million others.
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