IRAQ: Iraqi police say a female suicide bomber has killed at least 15 people and wounded about 20 others north of Baghdad. Police said the attack took place in the town of Muqdadiyah in volatile Diyala province and targeted members of a Sunni Islamist group that recently began cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq militants. Attacks by female suicide bombers are rare in Iraq. On Thursday, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said the U.S. military still faces a dangerous enemy in the country, despite a recent decline in violence.
IRAN - NUCLEAR: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with her Russian counterpart in Brussels today for talks on Iran, in the wake of a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Russian intelligence found no proof that Iran ever had a nuclear weapons program. Russia also remains opposed to U.S. push for additional U.N. sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium -- a key process to develop nuclear fuel for weapons. On Thursday, Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said NATO and European Union ministers agreed to maintain pressure on Iran because of its nuclear ambitions, despite the new U.S. intelligence report.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill says North Korea is making progress in dismantling its nuclear program. Hill made the remarks today after arriving in Tokyo. He traveled to Pyongyang earlier this week, where he delivered a personal letter from U.S. President George W. Bush to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Mr. Bush urged the North Koreans to uphold their promise to declare and dismantle all nuclear activities by the end of the year, in exchange for economic aid and other incentives. Hill has said Pyongyang is prepared to provide a full list of its activities, but negotiations are still underway to ensure that it is as complete and correct as possible.
CHINA - MINE BLAST: Rescue workers have discovered the bodies of 26 more miners trapped after a gas explosion in northern China, raising the death toll from Wednesday's accident to 105. Xinhua news agency says the bodies were found today at a mine in Linfen city in Shanxi province, one of China's top coal-producing provinces. More than 70 miners were killed in the initial blast. China's coal mining industry is the most dangerous in the world. More than 47-hundred Chinese coal miners died last year -- a rate of nearly 13 a day. Many accidents are blamed on mine owners for disregarding safety rules.
TAIWAN - CHIANG: Workmen in Taiwan's capital of Taipei have dismantled a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, part of the government's ongoing efforts to erase the memory of the late ruler. Massive Chinese characters were removed today from the entrance of a hall that was named after Chiang. The building was recently renamed Democracy Memorial Hall, to celebrate the self-ruled island's democratic movement. Hundreds of supporters and opponents gathered to watch the dismantling. The two sides engaged in a scuffle outside the memorial on Thursday. Chiang Kai-shek ruled the island with an iron fist from 1949 until his death in 1975.
BURMA - HUMAN RIGHTS: Human Rights Watch says Burmese soldiers killed at least 20 people during a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September -- twice as many as the ruling military government has admitted. The U.S.-based rights group issued a report on the crackdown today, based on interviews with more than 100 witnesses in the main city of Rangoon. It says it was unable to gather any information outside the city, where the group says many more people may have been killed. Human Rights Watch says soldiers used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, including students, civilians and Buddhist monks.
VIETNAM - RIGHTS: Witnesses have challenged the testimony of a U.S. official who defended the removal of Vietnam from a list of countries that fail to protect religious freedom. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford told a congressional hearing Thursday that Vietnam has made significant progress. Hanford said he has never seen a sitting government make such a big turnaround on religious freedom in a two year period. The ambassador said Hanoi has implemented legal changes banning forced renunciations of faith and granted clear legal rights for freedom of religious belief and practice.
EAP - CORRUPTION: A new survey of global corruption shows that more than 20 percent of respondents in East Asia have paid a bribe to obtain a service -- up from just 15 percent during the previous year. The survey, called the Global Corruption Barometer, was released Thursday by the anti-corruption group Transparency International. The study shows that more than 30 percent of bribes in Asian-Pacific countries were paid to the police. Another nearly 25 percent of bribes were paid to the judiciary, while more than 15 percent went to registry and permit services.
CLOSER - CHRISTMAS TREE: President Bush and his wife Laura have taken part in the annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. Carolers opened the ceremony Thursday night as several thousand people gathered in the cold of a field south of the White House. Mr. Bush addressed the crowd, saying the holidays are a time to thank those who help neighbors in need. He also expressed the nation's gratitude for the men and women of the armed forces. This year's Christmas theme at the White House is "Holidays in America's National Parks."
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