IRAQ: The Iraqi government has called on the country's armed groups to follow the lead of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army militia and freeze their activities. In a statement issued late Thursday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office said Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's decision to halt militia activities provided "a good opportunity" for other militias to suspend their operations in order to maintain stability and sovereignty of Iraq. The radical Shi'ite cleric Wednesday ordered his militiamen to stop their operations, including armed activities, for six months.
PAKISTAN POL: Pakistan's exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto meets with officials of her political party today to discuss whether to continue talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on a possible power sharing deal. A spokesman for Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (Farhatullah Babar) tells the Associated Press the London talks will focus on whether the negotiations are making progress. The spokesman says Ms. Bhutto wants to know if the Pakistan government agrees with her proposals for the transition to democracy. Earlier this week, Ms. Bhutto said General Musharraf had agreed to step down as army chief.
US - NOKOR: President Bush says efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program are making progress, and he hopes there is full disarmament by the time his term ends in early 2009. In an interview Thursday with Asian newspapers before an Asia-Pacific summit in Sydney next week, Mr. Bush calls North Korea's nuclear issue an "unfinished task" for his administration. But he says a lot has happened in the last few months that leads him to believe six party talks are making progress. In February, North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for political concessions and fuel aid from the five countries involved in its nuclear disarmament process.
MALAYSIA ANNIVERSARY: Malaysia is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence today with fireworks, flag-waving and a call for unity among its races and religion. Thousands of Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups making up the racially diverse nation gathered at Merdeka Square, or Freedom Square, in Kuala Lumpur. At the midnight celebration, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spoke with pride of the country's record of tolerance since its independence from Britain. But, Mr. Abdullah's speech also cautioned Malaysians to ensure that no region or community is left behind.
THAILAND - YOUTUBE: Thailand's government has lifted a nearly five-month ban on the popular video-sharing web site YouTube after the site's operator agreed not to allow videos that violate the country's laws. Thailand's Information and Communication Technology minister (, Sitthichai Pookaiyaudoom,) said today (Friday) the ban was lifted Thursday after YouTube installed filters to prevent Thai users from viewing clips of the king. The US-based company could not immediately be reached for comment. The government blocked access to YouTube in early April after its owner, Google Inc., turned down Thailand's request to remove clips seen as offensive to Thailand's king.
PHILIPPINES - MARCOS: A court in the Philippines has granted former first lady Imelda Marcos permission to travel to Hong Kong and China for two weeks. Marcos faces both civil and criminal charges over the billions of dollars amassed during the two decades her late husband, Ferdinand Marcos, ruled the Philippines. She is forbidden from traveling abroad without court permission, but the ruling (Thursday) cleared the way for her to leave today. The 78-year-old widow of the late dictator is seeking medical treatment in Hong Kong and China for eye and knee ailments.
US - BURMA - PROTESTS: The United States has condemned the arrest of political dissidents by Burma's military-run government following a rare string of anti-government protests there. President Bush in a statement Thursday said that he strongly condemns what he called the "ongoing actions of Burma's government in arresting, harassing and assaulting pro-democracy activists." He called on Burma to release the activists immediately. The U.S. State Department also criticized the Burmese government for its tough response to the recent non-violent demonstrations against a steep increase in fuel prices.
INDIA - NUCLEAR: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says his country cannot afford to lag behind developed nations in nuclear energy. Mr. Singh said today India can double the amount of nuclear power it can generate by opening up to international nuclear cooperation. He made the comments one day after India's Congress Party-led government agreed to form a panel to examine objections raised by leftist politicians. Officials say the panel will examine how the nuclear agreement affects India's foreign and security cooperation. The landmark deal would give India access to long-denied nuclear technology to build nuclear power plants in the energy-starved country.
BRITAIN - DIANA: Britain is mourning the late Princess Diana today on the 10th anniversary of her death in a car crash in Paris. Diana's sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, organized a solemn tribute with a royal memorial service in central London. William commemorated his mother with a Bible reading, while Harry delivered personal reminiscences about her. Queen Elizabeth, Diana's ex-husband, Prince Charles, and about 500 other invited guests are attending the service at the historic Guards Chapel, near Buckingham Palace.
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