IRAN ELECTIONS: Iranians are voting today in parliamentary elections, which are expected to keep power in the hands of the country's conservative faction. More than 40-million eligible voters will cast ballots for 45-hundred candidates nationwide competing for 290 seats in the parliament (the Majlis). But Iran's Guardian Council, a religious oversight group, disqualified 17-hundred candidates, many of them reformists and opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Council said the rejected candidates did not display enough loyalty to Iran's Islamic system.ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Peace talks have resumed between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem, with both sides likely to come under heavy criticism for not meeting their obligations under an internationally approved plan. U.S. General William Fraser is holding talks today with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is skipping the meeting, but has sent Gilad in his place.
IRAQ: Mourners gathered near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul today for the funeral of a prominent Iraqi Christian cleric, who died after being taken hostage last month. Services for Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho were being held -- one day after his body was discovered in a shallow grave near the city. The kidnappers telephoned church officials to say where his body could be found. He was abducted on February 29th. Authorities say they are not sure if the 65-year-old Rahho was killed of if he died from natural causes. Pope Benedict called Rahho's death an "inhuman act of violence."
TIBET - CHINA PROTESTS: Witnesses in Tibet say they heard gunfire in the capital Lhasa today following a series of rare protests this week in the remote region of China. Tourists and other witnesses say fires were burning in the capital and are reporting violence on the streets. The Associated Press reports the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has e-mailed an advisory to Americans warning them to stay away from the city. The Embassy says it has received first-hand reports of gunfire and other incidents of violence.
NOKOR - NUCLEAR: The top U.S. nuclear envoy says he had a very good meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva about efforts to disable Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Speaking with reporters today as he prepared to leave the Swiss city, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the talks brought progress. But, he did not report any breakthrough on Pyongyang's delayed nuclear declaration. Hill and North Korean envoy Kim Kye Kwan held two closed-door meetings Thursday in Geneva. There are no plans for talks to continue Friday.
MALAYSIA POL: The son of former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad is asking the newly re-elected Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to resign after his ruling coalition suffered an election setback last week. Mukhriz Mahathir said he wrote a letter this week demanding Mr. Abdullah's resignation. Mahathir is the first ruling party leader to ask the prime minister to step down. Mr. Abdullah was sworn in for a second five-year term Monday.
PAKISTAN - POLITICS: Lawyers say a Pakistani court has dropped the final remaining corruption charge against the co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party. The court dropped today the seventh corruption charge against Asif Ali Zardari. The case related to a German car Zardari had allegedly imported without paying duty. The charges against Zardari were withdrawn as part of an amnesty granted by President Pervez Musharraf. The deal allowed Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to return to Pakistan from exile.
US - BUDGET: The U.S. Senate has approved a three-trillion dollar budget plan. The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the measure early today by a vote of 51-44, mostly along party lines. The budget blueprint will guide Congress as it passes spending bills for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins in October. The Senate resolution must be reconciled with a similar budget plan approved by the House of Representatives. In the Senate plan, lawmakers rejected a one year ban on earmarks -- spending allocations for projects favored by specific members of Congress.
THAILAND - BURMA: Thailand's new Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej met with Burma's top leader General Than Shwe today in the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw. No details of the talks have been released. Mr. Samak's spokesman said Thursday that Thailand will not discuss matters related to Burma's internal affairs during the prime minister's one-day visit. The spokesman said Mr. Samak will use the meeting to introduce himself and to discuss Thailand's business interests in natural gas and its investment and development of a hydroelectric dam on Burma's Salween River.
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