WORLD AIDS DAY: Health activists around the globe are using today's annual observance of World AIDS Day to focus attention on efforts to combat the pandemic. The U.N.-sponsored Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria says it has provided drugs for nearly one-and-a-half million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In the United States, President Bush is urging lawmakers to approve his proposal to spend 30 billion dollars over the next five years to fight the disease. The president stared a five-year, 15 billion-dollar initiative in 2003 to provide live-saving drugs to AIDS patients in 120 countries, with an emphasis on 15 nations - mostly in Africa.
IRAQ: Iraqi police say at least 12 people are dead after suspected al-Qaida militants raided a Shi'ite village north of Baghdad today. Authorities say women and children were among those killed in the attack on the village of Dwelah, located in the volatile province of Diyala. The militants burned down several homes in the raid, and wounded at least 10 other villagers. The attack coincided with the release of a new Iraqi government report showing that the number of civilians killed in November fell to the lowest toll since early 2006, when the bombing of a Shi'ite mosque in Samarra set off a wave of sectarian killings.
VENEZUELA - PROTESTS: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has led a mass rally featuring a band and fireworks in support of sweeping constitutional reforms that would greatly expand his power. Wearing a bright red shirt emblazoned with the word "yes," President Chavez told thousands of his supporters filling the streets in Caracas Friday that a vote for the reform bill was a vote in favor of him. Mr. Chavez also warned the U.S. government against interfering in the vote, saying he would cut oil sales to the United States if it did. The U.S. embassy in Caracas issued a statement saying it rejected any claims of interference in the referendum.
BOLIVIA - PROTEST: Supporters and opponents of Bolivian President Evo Morales have clashed in the northern town of Cobija as tension rises over his efforts to reform the constitution. The confrontation happened Friday and involved demonstrators who officials say were attacked by university students. At least four people were injured. Violence has flared in Bolivia amid efforts by a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Earlier this month, unrest flared in the city of Sucre after the assembly approved a framework for the new constitution. A Bolivian student and three other people were killed.
IRAN - NUCLEAR: Representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany will meet later today in Paris to discuss additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Five hours of negotiations in London Friday between Iran and a senior European Union envoy failed to produce any breakthroughs in the nuclear standoff. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was "disappointed" by the talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. Solana said he expected more from Iran during the meeting.
BANGLADESH CLYCLONE: The U.S. military is extending its relief efforts in Bangladesh following this month's devastating cyclone, delivering much-needed supplies and medical care. A senior U.S. Navy officer (Rear Admiral Carol Pottenger) aboard the USS Kearsarge says U.S. forces have delivered over 45 thousand liters of water and 33 thousand kilograms of food, clothing, blankets and other supplies. The Kearsarge, a large amphibious assault ship that carries aircraft and helicopters, has been anchored off the southern coast of Bangladesh for nearly a week, providing aid to some of the nearly two million people displaced by Cyclone Sidr.
RUSSIA - POL: Campaigning for Russia's parliamentary elections ended Friday, with polls predicting a landslide victory for the United Russia Party headed by President Vladimir Putin. Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov said Friday that Sunday's elections are a farce because a significant portion of the electorate is being excluded from the process. The former world chess champion told reporters the suppression of political opposition leaders is pushing the Putin government into illegitimacy.
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