PAKISTAN: The political party of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has rejected the official account of her death and accused the government of trying to cover-up its failure to protect her. The government said Friday that Ms. Bhutto was killed when the force of a suicide blast crashed her head against a lever on the sunroof of her vehicle (in Rawalpindi). The government also said an intelligence intercept indicated that a wanted al-Qaida terrorist, Baitullah Mehsud, was behind the assassination. Senior officials with Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party called the government's version of the events "lies."
KENYA - ELECTIONS: Kenya's main opposition party has declared victory in the country's presidential election, despite continued delays in announcing official returns. Musalia Mudavadi of the Orange Democratic Movement says Raila Odinga is Kenya's president-elect based on the party's own vote tally. Mudavadi is Mr. Odinga's vice-presidential running mate. Partial official results released today show Mr. Odinga with three-point-seven million votes, compared to three-point-four million for incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. The vote count was expected to be completed by Friday.
CHINA - HONGKONG: China says it will allow Hong Kong to directly elect its leader by 2017 and all of its lawmakers by 2020. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (China's parliament) released its decision today, after Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang submitted a report on reform. The decision is likely to upset Hong Kong's pro-democracy parties, which have been pushing for universal suffrage in 2012. In a televised news conference Saturday, Mr. Tsang expressed gratitude for the decision.
IRAQ: THe U.S. military in Iraq says coalition forces killed three terrorists and detained around 40 suspects in separate operations targeting al-Qaida in Iraq today. Military statements say the operations were carried out in central and northern Iraq. The military says another operation in southern Iraq focused on what the military calls "Special Groups" that specialize in rocket-propelled grenade and mortar attacks against coalition forces. On Friday, at least 14 people were killed and 64 others were wounded in a car bomb blast in a crowded market in central Baghdad. Iraqi officials say one woman and a child were among the dead.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: A U.S. State Department spokesman has acknowledged that North Korea may not meet its deadline to submit a full declaration of its nuclear activities. Tom Casey Friday encouraged Pyongyang to turn in the declaration by the end of the month. But he said it is more important that the document be full and complete when it is received. His comments echo remarks the South Korean Foreign Minister (Soong Min-soon) made Thursday. Casey also said a State Department official (Sung Kim) monitoring North Korea's nuclear disablement process has met with officials in Pyongyang to discuss the situation.
CHINA - JAPAN: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao tossed a baseball around with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda today, following a day of talks as the two countries work to mend relations. The two leaders smiled as they played catch for several minutes in front of cameras following a breakfast meeting on the third day of Mr. Fukuda's four-day visit to China. During two-and-half hours of meetings Friday, the two discussed trade, climate change and their long-running and unresolved dispute over maritime gas fields.
CHINA POL: China has approved a former provincial governor, Chen Deming, as the country's Commerce Minister. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress said on its Web site today that Chen will replace Bo Xilai, who has been appointed as the top Communist Party leader of Chongqing metropolis in southwestern China. The site said Chen, who holds a doctorate (degree) in management, spent most of his early career in eastern China's Jiangsu Province before he was appointed vice governor of Shaanxi Province in 2002. In 2005, he was appointed governor of the province.
CLOSER - FRANCE SMOKING: The French cafe society culture of long conversations over wine and coffee while relaxing in the ever-present haze of cigarette smoke is about to be transformed. The smoky cafe will be only a memory when France bans smoking in bars, discotheques, restaurants, casinos and cafes on January first. Cafe and restaurant owners are concerned there will be little conversation with less wine, coffee and food purchased when customers are not allowed to smoke. In November, thousands of cafe and restaurant owners marched in Paris to protest the upcoming ban, but the French government is moving ahead with implementing the new law.
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