ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: An Israeli military assault in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has killed more than 30 Palestinians today. Israeli warplanes and tanks staged an attack on the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya. Palestinian medics say half of those killed were civilians, including at least two children. The others were said to be Palestinian militants. More than 60 Palestinians have been killed this week in Israel's stepped-up response to a wave of rocket attacks launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza into southern Israel. One of the attacks killed an Israeli civilian Wednesday.
IRAQ: The Iraqi government says the number of civilians killed in February rose by more than 30 percent from the previous month. Figures released today by Iraq's ministries of interior, defense and health shows at least 630 civilians died in February, compared with about 450 in January. The civilian death toll in January was the lowest since last June, when the United States sent 30-thousand more troops to Iraq to quell a wave of sectarian violence. In another development, U.S. military officials say coalition forces captured an alleged "special groups" facilitator and three other suspected criminals in Baghdad today.
TURKEY - IRAQ: Turkey's top military commander says Ankara's decision to withdraw its troops from northern Iraq was not due to any pressure from the United States. General Yasar Buyukanit told a Turkish newspaper (Milliyet) that Friday's withdrawal was for purely military reasons, adding that the troops had accomplished their mission against Kurdish rebels. On Thursday, President Bush had urged Ankara to bring a quick end to the ground offensive. The Turkish military says it killed 240 Kurdish rebels and lost 27 of its own soldiers in a week of fighting.
THAILAND - LAOS: Thai officials say Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is in Laos for economic and social talks with communist leaders. Officials said Mr. Samak and his Lao counterpart, Buasone Bouphavanh, plan to discuss road links and an energy deal. Authorities say Mr. Samak will return home today, ending his two-day visit to Laos. He plans to head to Cambodia Monday, continuing visits to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Thai leader and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen are to discuss bilateral concerns. Mr. Samak will return to Thailand on Tuesday.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: The chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea arrived in Beijing today to try to revive stalled nuclear disarmament talks. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was in Bangkok Friday. He told reporters that he might hold talks in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Kwan. A U.S. State Department spokesman said Hill will meet with Chinese officials over the next two days before traveling on for previously scheduled meetings in Hanoi. The spokesman did not confirm any planned meetings between Hill and North Korea's Kim.
SOKOR - JAPAN: South Korea's new president, Lee Myung-bak, says the country should put the long history of colonization by Japan behind it and move on. In a speech today, marking the 89th anniversary a Korean uprising against Japanese colonial rule, Mr. Lee said South Korea and Japan should try to build a future-oriented relationship based on pragmatism. The South Korean leader says the country can no longer afford to give up future relations based on past disputes. Mr. Lee has said that, unlike his predecessors, he will not demand that Japan apologize for past atrocities during its occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
US - BURMA: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says Washington wants a formal and regular diplomatic relationship with Burma. While in Thailand Friday, Hill told a university audience (at Chulalongkorn University) that he hopes that Burma can become a good and positive member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, once the military-ruled country changes its policies. Hill admitted that imposing sanctions on Burma is not the best choice. But he urged more countries to get involved in the process to pressure Burma's military government to open political dialogue with the opposition and facilitate U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari's free access to in the country.
US - BURMA DRUGS: A U.S. State Department report says Burma is still the world's second largest source of opium poppies after Afghanistan. The annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released Friday says Burma's share of world opium poppy cultivation fell from 55 percent in 1998 to five percent in 2006, but rose slightly in 2007. The report accused Burma's military government of not providing most opium farmers with access to alternative development opportunities. It said some opium farmers are tempted to increase production to take advantage of higher prices generated by opium's relative scarcity.
ARMENIA PROTESTS: Hundreds of Armenian police moved in this morning to break up an 11- day protest at Yerevan's Freedom Square. Demonstrators had set up a tent city in the capital in protest of the February 19th presidential election results. Witnesses say police beat protesters while clearing the square in an early (Saturday) morning raid. Tens of thousands of Armenian opposition supporters have peacefully rallied daily in the Armenian capital to protest election results.
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