BUSH - MIDEAST: President Bush says his decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq one year ago has significantly reduced violence in the country where -- as he put it -- "hope is returning." Mr. Bush spoke after meeting with his military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, at a U.S. military base (Camp Afrijan) in Kuwait today. Mr. Bush told reporters no decision has been made on withdrawing troops from Iraq, and that he would defer the matter to General Petraeus, who is scheduled to make a recommendation in March.
TAIWAN ELECTION: Polls have closed in Taiwan, where voters are choosing a new parliament, with analysts expecting a victory for the opposition Nationalist Party. Political observers say President Chen Shui-bian's ruling Democratic Progressive Party may fall short of its goal of preventing the Nationalist Party from gaining control of two-thirds of parliamentary seats. A strong victory in today's balloting would give the Nationalist Party's presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou an edge in the March 22nd election.
PAKISTAN: Pakistan's President Prevez Musharraf has ruled out a U.N. inquiry into the assassination of opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto's party has been calling for a U.N. investigation, comparing her death to the 2005 killing of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese blame Syria for that killing. Mr. Musharraf told a French newspaper (Le Figaro) that a U.N. probe will not be appropriate since no other country is implicated in the murder of Ms. Bhutto.
IRAN NUCLEAR: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is meeting with top Iranian leaders in Tehran, urging them to intensify cooperation with his agency to resolve outstanding questions about Iran's nuclear program. Mohamed ElBaradei met with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, and is due to hold talks for the first time with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on the country's policies. Friday, ElBaradei and the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, discussed how Iran and the IAEA can better work together before the IAEA chief reports to the agency's board of governors in March.
INDONESIA - SUHARTO: Doctors say former Indonesian President Suharto has shown slight signs of improvement after suffering multiple organ failure and being placed on a ventilator Friday. Doctors for the 86-year-old former dictator said today that his condition improved overnight. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced he would cut short a visit to Malaysia because of Mr. Suharto's deterioration. Mr. Suharto has been in Jakarta's Pertamina Hospital since last Friday, suffering from heart and kidney problems.
CHINA - OLYMPICS: China has ordered domestic airlines and airports to reduce delays and improve service in time for the Olympic games in August, or face severe penalties. The official "China Daily" newspaper said today that airlines face two-year expansion bans if they fail to meet the new punctuality and passenger satisfaction requirements. The paper says Yang Guoqing, vice-minister of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, made the announcement at a working conference Friday.
JAPAN - WHALING: The environmental group Greenpeace says it has located the Japanese whaling fleet off Antarctica and is pursuing it. In a statement, Greenpeace said its ship, Esperanza, confronted the whaling fleet today after a 10-day search, and the hunting ships immediately fled with the environmentalists in pursuit. The statement said if the fleet starts whaling, the Esperanza's international crew of activists will take non-violent action to prevent it. Greenpeace said activists will drive inflatable boats between the whaler's harpoons and the whales, while using high-powered water pumps to create a curtain of icy water, obscuring the harpooner's view.
KENYA: Kenya's main opposition party has called for new demonstrations to protest the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) said Friday it will hold rallies in nearly 30 places around Kenya next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in defiance of a police ban. A government spokesman (Alfred Mutua) urged Kenyans not to participate in the demonstrations. Authorities have banned all protests since Kenya erupted in violence nearly two weeks ago, after President Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 27th election.
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