EUROPE FIRES: Firefighters say the death toll in southern Greece from the worst forest fires in decades has risen to at least 41 and is expected to rise. They say a mother and her four children, who had been reported missing, are believed to be among the dead. Firefighters warned today that the toll could rise as they begin searching the affected zones on the Peloponnese Peninsula for more victims. Deaths have been reported near the town of Areopolis and near Zakharo, on the west side. The firefighters were working through the night, while 500 soldiers were to join the firefighting efforts today.
IRAQ: Iraqi authorities say a car bomb attack has killed at least seven people and wounded 30 others in a Shi'ite district in Baghdad. Officials say the blast occurred today in Kadhimiya, even as security was stepped up in the capital in an effort to protect Shi'ite pilgrims leaving for a religious festival next week. Tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims are expected to travel to the southern holy city of Karbala to mark the birth of revered ninth-century Imam al-Mahdi. The U.S. military in Iraq said today coalition forces have killed three terrorists and detained 17 suspects during operations targeting al-Qaida in Iraq in the Tigris River Valley north of Baghdad.
US - IRAQ: A published report says President Bush is expected to continue his current strategy in Iraq after the release of a much-anticipated progress report on the military and political situation there. White House officials told "The Washington Post" they will not consider making making any major policy changes before early next year. The officials say they expect the upcoming report by Army General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to show real improvements in security over the past year. The officials say the president will assert that now is not the time to make any big changes.
AFGHAN - VIOLENCE: Authorities in southern Afghanistan say three Afghan security guards have been killed in a roadside bomb attack. At least two other guards were wounded in the blast which occurred today in the southern province of Kandahar. On Friday, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said troops killed a militant and detained 11 other people during a raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says it will investigate a friendly fire incident that left three British soldiers dead and two others wounded in southern Afghanistan this week.
BURMA ARRESTS: Authorities in Burma have detained at least 49 people who protested this week on the outskirts of Rangoon against a steep hike in fuel prices. "The New Light of Myanmar" reported today that eight people were picked up as they marched in a protest Wednesday. The rest were detained Thursday and Friday. People in impoverished Burma are angry at the military government's decision earlier this month to double fuel prices at state-owned gas stations. Demonstrations are extremely rare in the tightly controlled country where security forces tolerate little dissent. Peaceful protests have been taking place since Sunday, mainly around Rangoon. No new demonstrations were reported today.
JAPAN - POL: Japan's first female defense minister says she wants to step down from her post when embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his Cabinet next week. According to Japanese media reports Friday, Yuriko Koike says she wants to step down to take responsibility for a recent scandal involving the leaking of classified information by naval officers. Koike -- a former national security advisor -- was sworn into office less than two months ago after former defense minister Fumio Kyuma was forced to resign. Mr. Abe has pledged to completely revamp his Cabinet on Monday.
NOKOR FLOODS: The United Nations is launching an international appeal for donations to help North Korea recover from some of the worst flooding it has ever experienced. Funds raised by the emergency appeal will be used for immediate needs, such as food, medical supplies, water and sanitation. The U.N. appeal follows South Korea's announcement (earlier Friday) of help for North Korea's effort to rebuild roads and thousands of homes destroyed in the floods. Seoul already has delivered the first portion of its 40-million-dollar aid package to the North, and it pledges the shipments of cement, iron bars, trucks, fuel and road materials will be complete by the end of this month.
EL SALVADOR - TAIWAN: Salvadoran President Tony Saca is promising to support Taiwan's bid to join the United Nations. Mr. Saca made the comment Friday following a Taiwan-Central American summit this week in Honduras. Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian attended the summit, which also included leaders from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize. Those nations also pledged to support Taiwan's efforts to join the U.N. China considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory and has threatened to use military force against the island if it seeks formal independence.
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