AFGHAN - HOSTAGES: Taleban negotiators say they expect to release 21 South Koreans after more than three weeks of holding them hostage, but only if their demands are met. The second round of negotiations resumed today in the Afghan city of Ghazni, after hours of discussions Friday. The captors have repeatedly threatened to kill more of the South Koreans unless the Afghan government and U.S. military release Taleban prisoners. However, the Afghan government has refused their demands. The Reuters news agency quotes a government official in Seoul as saying that the hostages' release was not imminent.
SIERRA LEONE ELECTIONS: Voters in Sierra Leone waited in long
lines today to vote in landmark elections. The West African country is working to complete a peaceful democratic transition to a new government after years of civil war. Heavy rains for two days threatened the voting, but lines of voters with umbrellas formed hours before the polls opened in various locations, including the capital of Freetown. The elections are the first since U.N. peacekeepers pulled out of Sierra Leone two years ago. And it is only the second vote since the end of an 11-year civil war. Seven candidates are running for president, including 69-year-old Vice President Solomon Berewa.
US - SPACE SHUTTLE: The U.S. space agency NASA says it has found what seems to be damage on the space shuttle Endeavour's heat shield. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station spotted a gouge in the shuttle's heat-resistant tiles Friday as the orbiter approached for docking. Video images beamed down from space indicate the damage to the heat shield measures about seven and one-half centimeters square (is slightly less than 60 square centimeters). NASA officials suspect a piece of ice or insulating foam from the shuttle's external fuel tank hit the heat shield during launch Wednesday.
CHINA - MOON: Chinese officials have announced that they plan to
map the entire lunar surface during the country's upcoming lunar exploration program. Chinese state media (Friday) quote the country's chief scientist for the project, Ouyang Ziyuan, as saying China would like to survey "every inch" of the moon's surface before eventually bringing samples back to Earth. Ouyang told a conference this week in southwestern China that scientists are investigating the amount of a certain type of the element Helium (Helium-3) considered plentiful on the moon. He said the element is a "long-term, stable, safe, clean and cheap material" to get nuclear energy through nuclear fusion.
IRAQ - UN: The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution that expands the U.N. role in Iraq. The resolution, passed unanimously Friday, renews the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq for one year, and increases the U.N.'s political and humanitarian role in the nation. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the U.N. will work with Iraqi leaders to promote political reconciliation. Iraq's U.N. ambassador says the U.N. also will help on regional humanitarian problems, including the plight of war refugees who have fled across Iraq's borders to Jordan, Syria and other countries.
US - FRANCE: U.S. President George Bush will host French
President Nicolas Sarkozy for a casual lunch at the Bush family's Atlantic coast compound in (the northeastern state of) Maine today. Mr. Bush and his wife Laura invited Mr. Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia for the get-together in Kennebunkport while the French couple spend their summer vacation in the neighboring state of New Hampshire. A White House spokeswoman (Dana Perino) said Friday the lunch is informal, but that the two leaders would likely talk about issues the two countries have cooperated on in the past, including Iran, Lebanon and Sudan.
KOREAS - US - MILITARY: The United States says it expects joint military exercises with South Korea to go ahead despite North Korea's warning that they could derail a deal to end Pyongyang's nuclear program. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey (Friday) described the exercises as long-standing and routine. North Korea's Central News Agency issued a statement Friday by the North Korean army saying that the U.S. will be held responsible for the "catastrophic impact" the joint military exercises will have on the implementation of the February 13th nuclear disarmament deal.
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