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Suicide Bombing at Mosque in Northwest Pakistan Kills 50

PAKISTAN - BLAST: Pakistani officials say at least 50 people have been killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in the restive northwest, during prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival. Officials say dozens more were wounded in the blast that took place today at the mosque inside the residential compound of former interior minister, Aftab Sherpao, in Charsadda -- a district in North West Frontier Province. Local police say the attacker blew himself up in a row of worshippers behind Sherpao, who escaped unhurt. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack and directed security and intelligence agencies to track down the masterminds.

NOKOR - NUCLEAR: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she looks forward to normalized relations between the United States and North Korea. In an exclusive interview with French Press Agency on Thursday, Rice said efforts to disable Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs have been "pretty smooth." The secretive Stalinist regime has promised to dismantle its nuclear program, and make a full declaration of its nuclear activities by the end of the year. Rice says "the real beginnings of political engagement" will take place once that step is achieved.

CHINA - CORRUPTION: A former top prosecutor in northern China has been handed a suspended death sentence in the country's latest high-profile corruption case. A court in Hebei province convicted Li Baojin Wednesday of taking bribes worth 760-thousand dollars from 1996 to 2006. At the time, he had served as a senior prosecutor in the northern city of Tianjin. China's official Xinhua news agency says Li took bribes in exchange for granting official favors. The court also found Li guilty of embezzling one-point-nine million dollars from the Tianjin prosecutor's office.

JAPAN - POL: A new opinon poll in Japan shows that approval ratings for the government of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda have fallen to their lowest levels since he took power three months ago. The "Asahi Shimbun" newspaper released a survey today showing support for Mr. Fukada's government has fallen to 31-percent, a decline of 13 points since the last survey conducted on December first and second. The cabinet's disapproval ratings have surged from 36-percent to 48-percent over that time.

AUSTRALIA - HICKS: An Australian judge has issued a set of restrictions for former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks when he is released from prison next week. The judge says Hicks must observe a midnight to dawn curfew, and report to police three times a week. Hicks is also barred from leaving Australia, and must get police permission to own a mobile phone. He was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001 while fighting with the Taliban. A police lawyer presented the judge with numerous documents revealing Hicks had met 20 times with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, whom he called a "lovely brother."

US - CIA VIDEOTAPES: A U.S. federal judge will hold a hearing today into whether the Bush administration violated a court order by destroying videotaped interrogations of two suspected al-Qaida terrorists by the CIA. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy issued an order in 2004 for the administration to preserve all evidence related to prisoner mistreatment at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The judge is hearing a lawsuit brought on behalf of 16 detainees at Guantanamo. The Justice Department says the tapes were not covered under the order since there was no evidence the suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were questioned at Guantanamo.

IRAQ: A top Iraqi Shi'ite leader has called for controls on U.S.-backed local Sunni groups that are fighting al-Qaida-linked insurgents. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim who heads the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the largest Shi'ite party in the Baghdad government, praised the role of the Sunni patrol groups in contributing to a sharp decline in violence. But he stressed that the groups --known as "Awakening Councils" -- should operate in coordination with the government. Separately, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon, called on Iran Thursday to stop helping insurgents in Iraq.

EU - BORDERS: The European Union has lifted border controls for citizens of nine of the newest EU member states as those countries join the union's vast passport-free zone. The entry of the nine countries into the so-called Schengen zone will let EU citizens travel by land or sea through 24 European countries without facing border checks. Airports are scheduled to lift passport controls next April. The expanded zone adds three-point-six million square kilometers to the visa-free area and includes more than 400 million inhabitants.

US - CALIF. - ENVIRONMENT: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he will sue the U.S. government over its refusal to allow California to impose stricter limits on vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions than the national standard. The governor made his announcement Thursday, a day after the Environmental Protection Agency said it had rejected the request. He said he is extremely disappointed by the EPA decision, calling it another example of the failure to treat climate change with the seriousness it demands.

THAILAND - SECURITY: Thailand's parliament has passed an internal security law critics say will allow the military to retain a grip on power even after the upcoming general election. The National Legislative Assembly approved the new law late Thursday by a vote of 105-8. The assembly was installed by the military shortly after last year's coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Internal Security Act would allow authorities to detain Thai citizens, impose curfews, restrict freedom of movement, and ban public meetings.

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