PAKISTAN: Pakistani police have allowed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to leave her residence in Islamabad after Friday's day-long house arrest, but prevented her from visiting the nation's ousted chief justice. Riding in a bullet-proof vehicle, Ms. Bhutto tried to approach former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's home today (Saturday), but police parked two vehicles to block her path. Earlier Saturday, Ms. Bhutto met with senior members of her Pakistan People's Party, and aides say she plans to meet with foreign diplomats later in the day. Ms. Bhutto has said she still plans to lead a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad next week to demand that President Pervez Musharraf give up his post of army chief, hold elections as scheduled in January, and lift the emergency imposed last Saturday.
US - PAKISTAN: The United States has called for an early end to the state of emergency in Pakistan, and the release of political party members and peaceful protesters. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe today (Friday) urged all sides to refrain from violence and work together to put Pakistan back on the path to democracy. He said the U.S. expects Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to uphold his promise to hold general elections before mid-February. Earlier, the White House demanded Pakistan allow former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and other political party leaders freedom of movement. Ms. Bhutto was later freed from house arrest after being blocked from leading a rally against emergency rule. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also voiced concern about the situation in Pakistan.
AFGHANISTAN VIOLENCE: Six NATO soldiers and three Afghan troops have been killed in an ambush by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan. In a statement today (Saturday), the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said another eight NATO soldiers and 11 Afghan troops were wounded in the fighting. The statement said the fighting began when insurgents attacked the patrol from multiple positions with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
MALAYSIA - PROTEST: Malaysian riot police have fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse an opposition rally in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Hundreds of police blocked roads leading to the planned location of today's (Saturday) rally in Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka). Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the inspector-general of police (Tan Sri Musa Hassan) warned people earlier in the week not to attend. The prime minister said that to go ahead would be illegal since police refused to grant a permit for the rally. More than 60 opposition political parties and non-governmental groups -- calling themselves the coalition for clean and fair elections (or Bersih) -- organized the protest.
AMNESTY - BURMA: The human rights group Amnesty International says there have been what it calls "grave human rights violations" in Burma since the country's military government crushed pro-democracy protests in September. In a statement released today (Friday), the London-based group said it has written to Burmese authorities outlining its evidence of mass detentions, torture, disappearances and deaths in custody. Amnesty cites the detention of some 700 political prisoners, beating deaths in custody and what it says is an official policy of taking family members hostage to force others to turn themselves in.
BURMA: Burma's state-controlled press has given front-page coverage to detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, ahead of a visit by a U.N. human rights specialist. The official "New Light of Myanmar" newspaper today (Saturday) published a photograph of the dissident figure with a representative of Burma's military government alongside an article about Friday's meetings. Aung San Suu Kyi met Friday with General Aung Kyi, the newly- appointed "minister for relations" with the opposition leader. She was also allowed to meet with members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) for the first time in more than three years. After the meetings, Aung San Suu Kyi issued a statement saying she is "optimistic" about the prospects for national reconciliation.
INDONESIA - BIRD FLU: Indonesian health officials say a 31-year- old man has died from bird flu on the island of Sumatra, raising the national death toll from the virus to 91. Officials said the man died in the town of Pekanbaru shortly after arriving at a hospital there. It was not immediately known how the man contracted the virus. A woman who died from the virus in Pekanbaru last month fell sick after buying chickens in a local market. The World Health Organization says more than 200 people have died of bird flu worldwide since an outbreak of the disease began in 2003. Experts meeting in Bangkok last week said the virus continues to spread in several Asian and African countries.
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