PAKISTAN: Pakistani police prevented former prime minister Benazir Bhutto from leaving her residence to attend a mass rally in Rawalpindi against emergency rule and the suspension of the nation's constitution. Ms. Bhutto, surrounded by a group of supporters, made two attempts to leave her home in Islamabad today, but failed to break through police barricades. After that, she addressed a gathering of her supporters through a megaphone from her home, and called on General Musharraf to restore democracy and stick to his promise to give up his post as head of the army by November 15th.
US - PAKISTAN: The United States has welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to hold general elections before mid-February. White House press secretary Dana Perino called General Musharraf's announcement to clarify the voting timetable "a good thing." The elections were originally planned for January 15th. At the State Department (Thursday), spokesman Sean McCormack pressed the Pakistani leader to take additional steps to return the country to democracy and constitutional rule. He said U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson had met with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but he declined to discuss details of their conversation.
BURMA: Burma's detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has met in Rangoon with three officials from her National League for Democracy party. The military government today granted Aung San Suu Kyi permission to meet with NLD representatives for the first time in more than three years. Her meeting with them lasted about an hour, and took place at a military guest house, after she first held discussions with a government representative, General Aung Kyi. An NLD spokesman told reporters after the meeting that Aung San Suu Kyi believes the ruling generals are serious about national reconciliation.
SOMALIA - VIOLENCE: Bodies littered the streets of the Somali capital today, after at least 30 people died during intense fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents over the last two days. Several dozen other people are reportedly wounded. Ethiopian tanks fired shells at Islamic rebels in residential neighborhoods of Mogadishu Thursday and the fighting continued overnight into today (Friday). United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided not to send U.N. peacekeepers to Somalia because he says it is neither realistic nor viable. Witnesses say the body of a slain Ethiopian soldier was dragged through the streets Thursday for several kilometers while crowds of onlookers chanted "God is great."
LAOS - MALNUTRITION: The World Food Program says half of the children under the age of five in rural Laos are suffering from malnutrition. The U.N. agency says that despite the economic growth in Laos over the past decade, chronic malnutrition remains high. It said the food situation is especially critical in the northern provinces of Bokeo and Xiengkhuang, and in Saravane and Sekong provinces in the south. The World Food Program says about 255-thousand children are at risk in Laos, and it appealed to both the Lao government and international donors to address the situation.
US - JAPAN - SECURITY: Japanese lawmakers have extended their legislative session as both houses of parliament (the Diet) consider whether to restart a naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. Lawmakers voted today to extend the session by 35 days to December 15th. A bill to extend the naval mission is expected to be approved in Japan's powerful lower house, which is controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner (the New Komeito Party). But it faces an uncertain future in the upper house, controlled by the opposition Democratic Party. The naval mission was suspended last week when its mandate expired.
ASEAN CHARTER: Southeast Asian leaders have drafted a landmark charter that seeks to promote human rights and democracy while upholding a policy of non-interference in each other's domestic affairs. The charter is to be formally presented in Singapore November 20th at the annual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It will be the first time in ASEAN's 40-year history that it will have a written charter spelling out its basic principles and organizational rules. ASEAN was founded in 1967 as an anti-communist coalition, but now includes two communist states -- Vietnam and Laos -- as well as military-ruled Burma.
US - ATTORNEY GENERAL: The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Bush's nomination of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey to the post of attorney general. The Senate approved Mukasey by a vote of 53-40 during a late-night session Thursday. A number of Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, opposed Mukasey over his refusal during his Senate confirmation hearings to say whether an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, known as waterboarding, is torture.
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