IRAQ: U.S. and Iraqi officials are expected to start negotiations today in Baghdad on agreements to govern future relations between the two countries. The U.S. Defense Department says U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will lead the American negotiating team. A Pentagon spokesman says Washington expects a lengthy period of negotiations with Iraq. U.S. officials say the talks are aimed at reaching two main agreements, one of which they describe as a "strategic framework" for U.S.-Iraqi relations. They say such an agreement would establish long-term cooperation on political, economic and security issues.
TURKEY - IRAQ - KURDS: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has told his Turkish counterpart that Baghdad wants a strategic and solid relationship with Turkey. Mr. Talabani was speaking Friday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, at a joint news conference with President Abdullah Gul. Mr. Talabani arrived in the city earlier in the day on his first trip to Turkey as Iraq's head of state. Turkish President Gul says Mr. Talabani's visit is important for peace in the region. The two sides are trying to ease tensions that arose last month from a Turkish military offensive against rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq.
MALAYSIA - ELECTIONS: Malaysians voted in general elections today amid violence and accusations of fraud. In the northeastern state of Terennganu, police detained about 20 stone thowing supporters of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, who were stopping buses transporting people to the polls. PAS has accused the ruling coalition (Barisan Nasional) of busing unregistered voters to polling stations to rig the outcome of the elections. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has said he is confident the coalition will win, as it has since independence in 1957.
COLOMBIA - ECUADOR - VENEZUELA: The leaders of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela say they have settled a weeklong crisis that brought them to the brink of military clashes after Colombian forces attacked FARC rebels inside Ecuador. The Rio Group of Latin American leaders, meeting in the Dominican Republic Friday, drafted a statement that said Colombia apologized for the cross-border incident. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa, publicly shook hands at the end of the meeting to demonstrate their good will.
US POLITICS: Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been campaigning in (the western state of) Wyoming, hoping for a win in today's party caucuses. Senator Obama had won 12 straight Democratic nominating contests until Senator Clinton revived her campaign with primary wins this week (Tuesday) in Rhode Island along with delegate-rich Ohio and Texas. A new opinion poll by Newsweek magazine says the two are in a virtual tie among Democratic voters. Obama's campaign experienced a shake-up Friday, as one of his advisers resigned after telling a Scottish newspaper that Clinton is "a monster who would stoop to anything."
THAILAND - ARMS DEALER: A court in Thailand has authorized the continued detention of an alleged Russian arms dealer, known as the "Merchant of Death," while investigations into his case continue. Victor Bout will stay in a Thai prison while authorities determine whether he has done anything that would warrant prosecution in Thailand. Bout could face up to 10 years in a Thai prison if convicted of giving weapons and financial support to terrorists. U.S. prosecutors in New York want Thailand to deport Bout to the United States, where he is accused of trying to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
UN - BURMA: U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari met today with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her National League for Democracy party. The Nobel Peace laureate was seen being driven from her Rangoon home, where she has been held under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years. She was taken to the nearby State Guesthouse, where Gambari has held most of his meetings since arriving Thursday. Gambari is in Burma on a mission to persuade the military government to hold direct negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi, and allow her NLD party to participate in the country's political process.
AFGHAN - PROTESTS: Thousands of people demonstrated in Afghanistan today, protesting the reprinting of a cartoon in Denmark depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The demonstrators marched through the western city of Herat, yelling slogans denouncing Denmark for insulting Islam. The cartoon was one of 12 that led to deadly riots across the Muslim world when they were first published in 2006. Several Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon last month in a show of support for the cartoonist, after police said they had uncovered a plot to kill the artist.
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