PAKISTAN - POLITICS: Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned to her homeland, ending eight years of self-exile. Ms. Bhutto was in tears as she came down the steps of a plane that brought her from Dubai to Karachi today. A huge crowd of flag-waving supporters greeted Ms. Bhutto at the airport. Officials from her Pakistan Peoples party say hundreds of thousands of people were lined up along the route from the airport to downtown. Ms. Bhutto is scheduled to address a homecoming rally near the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
US - TIBET - CHINA: China says the United States has "gravely undermined" relations between the two countries by awarding Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, with its highest civilian medal. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters today that the United States needs to take concrete steps to make amends for what he called the "terrible impact" of its actions. The ministry also summoned Washington's ambassador in Beijing to deliver a strong protest over the ceremony. In Washington on Wednesday, President Bush personally presented the 72-year-old Buddhist monk with the Congressional Gold Medal and called on China's leaders to open talks with the Dalai Lama.
BURMA: The United Nations envoy to Burma says incentives should be offered to the country's military rulers in exchange for democratic reforms. Speaking with reporters in Jakarta today, Ibrahim Gambari suggested that international powers give Burma incentives to let it know that the world is not just there to punish its military rulers. Gambari is in Jakarta today as part an Asian tour aimed at increasing pressure on Burma's government after its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests last month. Separately, the U.N. World Food Program said today that millions are going hungry in Burma despite its vast natural agricultural potential.
BURMA SDBR: US - INDIA - CHINA: U.S. lawmakers are proposing additional sanctions against military ruled Burma that target the country's lucrative trade of gems, and government officials who were involved in the recent bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Republican presidential candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain and Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, introduced two separate bills on Wednesday. Both McCain's legislation (Saffron Revolution Support Act) and the Lantos bill (Block Burmese Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts (JADE) Act) seek to ban the import of Burmese gems to the United State through third countries, and financial sanctions for government officials.
INDONESIA - VOLCANO: Villagers in Indonesia are defying orders to evacuate their homes on the slopes of a deadly volcano, despite warnings of an imminent eruption. Indonesia's Mount Kelud in East Java province was put on its highest alert Tuesday and thousands of residents were evacuated from areas surrounding the volcano. But, some villagers have returned to their homes on the volcano's slopes to tend to crops and animals, and refuse to leave. Scientists said today that the number of quakes inside the mountain have decreased, but warned that a reduction in activity was a dangerous sign.
US - MIDEAST: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to London Thursday for talks with Jordan's King Abdullah to rally Arab support for an upcoming Mideast conference. Rice wrapped up her four-day diplomatic visit to the Middle East on Wednesday. She said Israelis and Palestinians have "a moment of opportunity" to advance peace efforts. During her visit, Rice met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rice has been trying to get the two sides to narrow differences on a joint document ahead of a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference.
IRAQ: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged renewed efforts to achieve political progress in Iraq, taking advantage of a recent decline in violence across the country. In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Wednesday, Mr. Ban said September had the lowest level of Iraqi casualties this year, which he said, provided an opportunity for progress that "should not be missed." The U.N. chief said the ceasefire by the Shi'ite Mahdi Army militia as well as Sunni insurgents opposing al-Qaida, in his words, holds "significant political potential."
FRANCE - STRIKES: French commuters are struggling to find ways to the office, as transportation workers strike to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to cut pensions. Only a fraction of France's bus, train, and metro services are running today, forcing workers to travel by car or bike, or on foot. Transport union leaders say the strike will last all day, and that some workers could stay off the job Friday. The unions strongly oppose Mr. Sarkozy's plans to cut pensions for certain civil servants, including transportation workers and those in the gas and electricity sectors.
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