US - BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Emergency crews in the northern U.S. city of Minneapolis (, Minnesota) resume their search today for more victims of this week's deadly collapse of a major highway bridge. A large portion of the bridge broke apart Wednesday and plunged 20 meters into the Mississippi River. Officials say strong river currents are making it difficult for crews searching for victims believed to be trapped in the wreckage. Five people have been confirmed dead. Various reports say between eight and 30 people are missing. Hospital officials say at least 79 people were injured in the bridge collapse.
SOUTH ASIA FLOODS: Relief workers in parts of northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal are battling flood waters to bring food, drinking water and medicines to nearly 20 million people displaced by monsoon rains. Nearly 300 people have been killed and vital crops washed away by 20 days of constant rainfall in the region. The Indian states of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are among the hardest hit, with at least 150 fatalities reported as of Thursday. In Uttar Pradesh, the army has been called to evacuate 500 villages. Officials there fear outbreaks of water-borne diseases. In neighboring Bangladesh, at least 50 people have perished, and more than half of the country is under water.
PAKISTAN OPPOSITION: Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the release of a top opposition leader, dealing another blow to President Pervez Musharraf. The court today ordered the release of Javed Hashmi, who was a senior leader in former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League. Hashmi was arrested in 2003 after circulating an unsigned letter from some soldiers criticizing General Musharraf. The next year, Hashmi was sentenced to 23 years in prison. The same Supreme Court that ordered Hashmi released also ruled recently that its chief justice should be reinstated after President Musharraf suspended him several months ago.
AFGHANISTAN - HOSTAGES: South Korean officials say a government delegation is talking with Taleban militants who kidnapped 23 South Koreans in Afghanistan two weeks ago. A South Korean presidential spokesman said today that direct communication is under way between Korean negotiators and the militants. The spokesman admitted that Seoul is not in position to meet the kidnappers' demand that the Afghan government release Taleban prisoners in exchange for the captive Koreans. The Afghan government has refused to negotiate a prisoner swap since July 19th when 23 Korean Christian aid workers were kidnapped while on a bus headed to Kandahar from Kabul.
KOREAS - TALKS: South Korea's Unification Ministry says North Korea has agreed to hold another round of high-level talks with Seoul in mid-September. The ministry said today that a specific date for the talks, to be held in Pyongyang, has not yet been set. At the last round of inter-Korean ministerial talks in early June, Seoul refused to resume food aid to the North until Pyongyang made progress on shutting down its nuclear program. South Korea has since restarted food aid to the North following confirmation by international nuclear inspectors that Pyongyang shut down its main nuclear reactor.
LIBYA - FRANCE - ARMS: Libya is to buy military equipment from France -- the first arms deal with the West since an international arms embargo against Libya was lifted in 2004. Libyan officials say the government Thursday signed contracts to buy anti-tank missiles and radio communications equipment -- worth more than 400-million dollars. The deal comes after Tripoli released (last month) six medical workers -- five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor -- convicted of infecting more than 400 Libyan children with the AIDS virus in the 1990s. The workers have maintained their innocence. French officials deny any link between the arms deal and the workers' release.
IRAQ: The U.S. military in Iraq says four American soldiers have been killed during separate combat operations in Baghdad. In statements issued today, the military said three soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in eastern Baghdad late Thursday. Earlier, the military said one soldier was killed and three wounded while conducting operations in a western section of the Iraqi capital. Elsewhere, police say gunmen killed an associate of the country's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
THAILAND - DEMOCRACY: Thailand's post-coup leaders are urging Thais to vote in a constitutional referendum on August 19th. Coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin and Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont kicked off a democracy rally today in Bangkok, where they urged hundreds of voters to cast ballots in this month's referendum. Many of those who attended today's gathering were soldiers. The August 19th referendum will decide whether to adopt a new draft constitution proposed by the military-appointed interim government. The new draft constitution is intended to guide the country toward elections by the end of this year.
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