PAKISTAN - BHUTTO: British detectives from Scotland Yard have concluded that the force of a suicide bomb blast, and not an assassin's bullet, killed Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The investigators' report presented today supports the Pakistani government's version of how Ms. Bhutto died after a political rally in Rawalpindi on December 27th. The report determined that Ms. Bhutto died from a fatal head injury caused by the suicide blast, triggered by a lone gunman. There were earlier suggestions that two assailants were involved.
US POLITICS: U.S. Senator John McCain is focusing his sights on the November presidential election, now that his major rival for the Republican Party nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has suspended his campaign. McCain, the veteran Arizona lawmaker, tried to rally conservatives to his side Thursday, when he spoke to a gathering of activists in Washington. Conservatives are upset with McCain because of his views on immigration reform, and his opposition to President Bush's first term tax cuts. McCain assured the crowd that he has "maintained the record of a conservative" during his long political career.
NATO - MEETING: NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says Afghanistan must step up its fight against the Taliban. During a meeting with NATO defense chiefs today, Scheffer said it is up to Afghanistan to improve its government and boost support for its security forces. He stressed the need to fight corruption, build up a viable police force, and take on opium producers. The NATO chiefs are in their second day of contentious talks in Vilnius, Lithuania, as the alliance considers a U.S. request for the deployment of more combat troops to southern Afghanistan.
US - ECON - STIMULUS: The U.S. Congress has passed an economic stimulus package that would send tax rebates to more than 100 million households in the country. The House of Representatives approved the measure Thursday night, after the Senate amended an earlier version to include rebates for disabled veterans and the elderly. The package aims to inject about 150 billion dollars into the U.S. economy by sending government checks of up to 600 dollars to individual tax payers. The bill will now go to President Bush for approval.
CAMBODIA - KHMER ROUGE: A survivor of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge has confronted one of the regime's former leaders at the U.N.-sponsored genocide tribunal. Nuon Chea sat stoically while the woman testified during today's hearing in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Theary Seng recalled being a seven-year-old girl when she and her brother were arrested, thrown into prison and treated inhumanely. Court officials describe her testimony as historic since it is considered the first time a victim has confronted a former Khmer Rouge leader in court.
JAPAN - AUSTRALIA - WHALING: Japan says it will complain to Australia about its release of graphic photographs of whales being killed by a Japanese fleet in Antarctic waters. Japanese Agricultural Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi says Tokyo will express its "regret" over the release of the photographs, and urge Canberra to act with calm over the issue. Australia says the pictures show a whale and her calf being dragged onto a Japanese ship after being harpooned. Environment Minister Peter Garrett on Thursday described the images as "sickening and sad."
AUSTRALIA - IMMIGRATION: A group of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia has left a detention center on the small Pacific island of Nauru, marking the end of Canberra's controversial refugee detention program The 21 refugees arrived in the eastern city of Brisbane today for resettlement in Australia. They are the last of more than one-thousand asylum seekers detained in Nauru and on the Papua New Guinea island of Manus since 2001. Then-Prime Minister John Howard implemented the so-called "Pacific Solution" policy after hundreds of Afghan refugees were blocked from entering the country after their boat was rescued at sea.
SRI LANKA: The Sri Lankan military says troops have killed at least 34 Tamil Tiger rebels in recent fighting in the north of the country. Officials say the fighting has been going on since Thursday in the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar, and Trincomalee. One government soldier was reported killed. The rebels have not commented on the fighting. Fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the rebels has intensified since the government pulled out of a 2002 cease-fire last month. The government says the rebels had been using the agreement to rearm and regroup.
VENEZUELA - EXXON:
ExxonMobil has secured court orders to freeze 12 billion dollars in worldwide assets belonging to Venezuela's state-owned oil company, in response to Venezuela's nationalization of a huge oil project. The U.S.-based oil company said Thursday that it received the orders in Britain, the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles to freeze the assets of Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA. Further hearings on the multibillion-dollar freeze are scheduled for February 22nd.
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