LEBANON: Lebanese officials say a car bomb blast in a Christian suburb of the capital Beirut has killed at least six people, including a top security official. Police chief Ashraf Rifi identified the dead officer as Captain Wissam Eid, whose vehicle was caught in the blast. Other victims include his body guards and civilians. The police chief told reporters at the scene that Eid was handling several cases linked to terrorist bombings in Lebanon. He said the bomb was placed by the roadside and several other people were wounded in the attack in the Hazmieh neighborhood on the eastern edge of Beirut.
IRAQ: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the government is launching a major offensive against al-Qaida in the northern city of Mosul, following two deadly bombing attacks in the city. In an address in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala today, Mr. Maliki said troops have moved into Mosul and the fight there "will be decisive." On Thursday, a suicide bomb blast in Mosul killed a police chief (Brigadier General Saleh Mohammed Hassan) and two other officers, as they toured the site of a deadly explosion that rocked the city a day earlier. One Iraqi army soldier and one coalition soldier were wounded in Thursday's blast.ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Egypt is putting barbed wire and chain links to close its breached border with the Gaza Strip and prevent Palestinians from entering the country. Egyptian border security forces and riot police announced over loudspeaker that the border will be closed by three pm local time (1300 UTC) today. Since Palestinian militants blew up a large section of the border wall Wednesday, tens of thousands of people have crossed into Egypt to buy goods made scarce by the blockade Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip last week.
WORLD ECONOMY: Many Asian markets closed sharply higher today, while European markets rose in early trading, following a tentative deal between President Bush and leaders of the Democratic-controlled Congress to boost the struggling U.S. economy. The accord was announced Thursday after several days of negotiations. The economic stimulus package would give up to 600 dollars each to at least 116 million low-income and middle-income wage earners - and more than 600 dollars in some cases. The money would be paid out in the form of a rebate on income taxes.
BURMA: The foreign ministers of Britain and France and the U.S. Secretary of State are calling on world leaders to press Burma to make progress on democracy and human rights. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her British counterpart, David Miliband, and France's Bernard Kouchner issued the appeal Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They say world leaders attending the forum should show they are not indifferent to what the foreign ministers call "the suffering of the Burmese people." Rice, Miliband and Kouchner say forum participants should urge Burma's military rulers to allow another visit by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari soon.
INDONESIA - ACTIVIST: Indonesia's Supreme Court has sentenced a former pilot for the country's state-owned air carrier to 20 years in prison for the murder of a prominent human rights activist. Pollycarpus Priyanto is accused of killing Munir Thalib, who died aboard a Garuda jetliner in 2004 during a flight to Holland. The 38-year-old Munir was a vocal critic of Indonesia's military, accusing it of human rights violations, illegal drug smuggling and illegal logging. Today's ruling overturns the court's 2006 acquittal of Priyanto. A lower court in 2005 sentenced him to 14 years in prison for Munir's death.
CHINA - TRAIN: China says one of its high-speed passenger trains hit a group of railway workers, killing 18 of them and injuring nine others. The train was traveling from Beijing to the port city of Qingdao. The Ministry of Railways and the State Administration of Work Safety disclosed the fatal accident today. They say the tragedy occurred Wednesday night in the eastern province of Shangdong, near the city of Anqiu, near the end of the train's 550-kilometer journey.
KENYA: A new flare up of violence has shaken Kenya, despite diplomatic efforts being conducted there by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Just hours after Mr. Annan had announced he was encouraged by the first direct talks between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, ethnic clashes broke out in central Kenya, especially in the town of Nakuru. At least three people were reported killed. Mr. Annan is expected to hold further talks with political leaders to try to end the crisis sparked by the disputed re-election of Mr. Kibaki.
IRAN - NUCLEAR: Diplomats from six world powers have agreed to present elements of a third nuclear sanctions resolution against Iran to the full United Nations Security Council Friday. Germany and the five permanent Security Council members (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) met in New York Thursday to discuss the resolution aimed at pressuring Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear activities. A senior European diplomat told reporters the six world powers are committed to ensuring that the resolution process is inclusive and unanimous.
INDIA - FRANCE: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by a high-level delegation, is in India for a two-day visit aimed at strengthening strategic and economic ties. Mr. Sarkozy, who arrived in New Delhi today, was accorded an impressive welcoming ceremony at the official residence of India's President Pratibha Patil. The French president, who will be the guest of honor at India's Republic Day celebration Saturday, is to hold talks with top government officials, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two sides are expected to announce a deal to upgrade India's 51 French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets and also discuss the possibility of civilian nuclear cooperation deal.
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